So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Castro: A Graphic Novel

Castro: A Graphic Novel by Reinhard Kleist
While this book is sold as the life of Fidel Castro, it is also the life of a fictional German journalist named Karl Mertens. Reinhard Kleist tells the story of Castro's Cuba as seen through Mertens' eyes as he covers the rise to power and life of Fidel Castro, and its effect on the life of the Cubans around him.

As the book opens we see an aged Mertens reminiscing about his life in Cuba. He thinks back to the day he landed in Cuba as a young journalist on his first assignment in October 1958 to cover events involving the Castro-led rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountains of eastern Cuba. He arranges passage to the east and spends several days with the rebel forces, interviews Castro to find out the principles of the fight, and talks to several of his followers to learn Castro's early life. The days pass and Karl becomes involved with the rebels on a deeper level and, losing his journalistic objectivity, he become an active participant in the fight, not with a gun, but with his pen and his camera.

He relates the story of Castro's rise to power and the transformation of the revolution into communism, the disruption of relations with the USA and the alliance with the USSR, and the major events in Cuba since Castro came to power. He also tells of Karl's relationships with his friends Juan and Lara, people he met during the early days of the rebellion. Through the lives of these three people we see the day-to-day life in Cuba and its effects on the people. The shortages caused by the embargo, the restrictions on dissent and social freedom take their toll on these friendships as Karl remains committed to the ideals of the revolution. Finally we see Karl and Castro reflecting on their lives and the choices they have made: two old men looking at their lives and wondering.

Originally publish in Germany, this is an English translation. Castro is one of the leading Wester Hemisphere figures of the second half of the Twentieth Century. This book provides an accessible and engaging look into the man and the country that he shaped and is well-worth reading.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy by Michael F. Patton and Kevin Cannon
The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy uses the graphic novel format effectively in providing a well-rounded introduction to the field of Philosophy. The progression of knowledge in Philosophy is symbolized in the book by a journey down The River of Philosophy, narrated by the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, most famous for his belief in change being the fundamental nature of the universe, and for saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice."
Rather than provide a linear historic outline, the book is divided into seven chapters: an Introduction to the field and then chapters devoted to six of the major subfields of Philosophy: Logic, Perception, Minds, Free Will, God, and Ethics. In these chapters Heraclitus meets the Western philosophers who developed the major theories in each field as he travels down the river, mostly by canoe. They engage in discussions that often bring together competing thinkers to argue their beliefs. Each of the major philosophers is introduced in a half page panel that gives their dates, a brief summary of their importance, the name of their most famous work, a map that shows their home country, a quote from their works, and a Fun Fact. Along the way he is pursued by a pair of wise-cracking talking fish.
The language of Philosophy is bogged down with many abstract "-isms" coined by philosophers to give names to their theories. Each are defined as they are introduced, and there is a three page Glossary at the end of the book where they are summarized alphabetically. This is followed by a one page Bibliography that lists some of the major books written by the philosophers Heraclitus has met along the way.
I found this a rewarding book for getting a grasp of these major concepts and how they have played out in Western thought. As the authors state, it only "scratched the surface" and, as such leaves, out much more than it contains. Hopefully, it will leave the reader wanting to pursue further study.