Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, 4/5
This true story wasn’t quite as readable as I’d expected, having been absolutely blown away by Hillenbrand’s later work Unbroken. I was partly to blame for approaching the book with a skepticism that made me look disconsolately for footnotes where there were none. For some reason, I just couldn’t escape the nagging question “does she really know what all the people in her story said and felt, or is she just making it all up?” I would have had a much more enjoyable experience if I’d read the end notes, acknowledgements and interview with the author at the end of the book first. These sources helped me realize the insane amount of time and energy Hillenbrand, already an accomplished equestrian author, put into researching the story of Seabiscuit.
I just have to point out how bizarre it is that the horse’s face didn’t make it onto the cover of the book! Even the image on the spine is of the jockey, not his famous steed.
Why I read it: I was looking for something light to read while traveling and Seabiscuit had been on my radar for quite a while.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard, 4/5
It’s a bit backwards that a short essay about writing is my first introduction to this author, however Leonard’s fascinating goal to “remain invisible” in his writing and the many similarities between his philosophies and those of screenwriter William Goldman, make me very eager to read more by him.
Why I read it: I very much enjoyed the TV show Justified, which was based on some of Leonard’s short stories. The show’s dialogue was especially good, so I am curious how much of that is a reflection of the source material (judging from this essay, I’m guessing a lot). Also, in researching Leonard, I found that his novels have been the inspiration for many movies, such as Mr. Majestyk, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown, which makes him even more interesting.
This series of essays starts out strong, with the author daring to question the hallowed concept of democracy and finding it severely lacking in several easily demonstrable ways. However, common sense and strong opinions can only take you so far when it comes to formulating complicated theories of politics and economics. As Hoppe’s ideas became more and more bizarre, I became increasingly angered by his failure to provide convincing supporting arguments or hard data of any kind. I couldn’t figure out why an obviously intelligent academic would present his opinions so insultingly, through shallow reasoning, cheap rhetoric and gross oversimplification. After quite a lot of teeth gnashing, I finally realised the problem was identified right in the first sentence of the book’s introduction: the essays were originally speeches written for Libertarian conferences. The whole point was to fire up sympathetic audiences, not necessarily to convince anyone of anything. I wish I’d known this ahead of time, because maybe then I’d have been spared the prospect of Hoppe’s horrifying “solution” to the problem of democracy: an “anarchic” private law society, overseen by military-grade private insurance corporations.
[Why I read it: it came up in conversation with my brother.]