Friday, September 28, 2012

Intermediate Chinese Reader (Parts I and II) by John DeFrancis

Excellent, effective instruction
If you're reading this, I’ll assume you’ve already worked your way through DeFrancis’s Beginning Chinese Reader, or are in the process of doing so. If not, see my review for that book. The Intermediate volumes in the series are structured a little bit differently than the Beginning. Instead of ten characters per chapter there are sixteen, and there are a lot more combinations, probably over 100 in each chapter. Because of the increase in volume of information, it’s more difficult to get through than the Beginning volumes. You will find the first few lessons to be rather hard, but eventually you just get used to it. Every sixth lesson is still a review lesson. There are 30 lessons in all, so both volumes of the Intermediate Chinese Reader combined give you a total of 400 characters.

As you learn more characters, the scope of subjects you are able to cover broadens dramatically. Whereas in the Beginning Reader you were reading about England and America, in the Intermediate Reader you are reading about the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region and the United Nations General Assembly. In Beginning you learned the word for democracy, here you’re reading paragraphs discussing the differences between liberalism, conservatism, and imperialism.

The last time my Taiwanese in-laws came to the States, they were very impressed when I started writing out paragraphs in traditional Chinese characters. They were shocked when I told them that I was learning on my own without the help of an instructor. What’s more, they even complimented me on my grammar.

The DeFrancis system works. Obviously the more time you put into it the more you will learn and the better you will read and write. I am looking forward to working through the Advanced volume, but I already feel that from the first four volumes I have acquired a foundation of knowledge sufficient to enable me to study other texts and dictionaries and expand my Chinese vocabulary through independent study.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lost Face by Jack London

Much more than just “To Build a Fire”
Lost Face is a collection of seven short stories by Jack London, all of which take place in Alaska or the Yukon Territory around the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. It is most notable for being the collection which contains “To Build a Fire,” the classic story of a man trudging along the Yukon Trail, alone but for his dog, who finds himself struggling for survival against the 75-below-zero cold. It is London’s most famous and widely read piece of writing, about as perfect as a short story can be, and sure to be read in junior high school English classes for centuries to come.

In addition to this renowned masterpiece, Lost Face is loaded with unexpected gems. I had never heard of the other six stories in this collection, and I was greatly surprised at how good they are. By the time Lost Face was published in 1910, London had already published five collections of Klondike tales, ranging from the excellent (The Faith of Men) to the OK (Love of Life). In the latter book, London showed signs of exhausting the subject matter and running out of ideas, but here in Lost Face he comes up with seven very solid, original, exciting tales.

The title story, “Lost Face,” recalls the odyssey of a Polish freedom fighter who is imprisoned by the Russians, then escapes from the mines of Siberia and ends up in Alaska. He finds himself faced with torture and death at the hands of a Native American tribe, and desperately tries to come up with a way out of his predicament. “That Spot” is a comical tale in which the narrator recalls a dog he owned during his prospecting days in the Yukon; a magnificent, powerful, keenly intelligent beast who absolutely refused to perform the slightest bit of useful labor. In “Flush of Gold,” two travelers on the sled dog trail stop at a cabin on Surprise Lake, where dwells a beautiful, mysterious woman who pines for a former lover. As one of the men relates the woman’s history to his companion, the reader discovers the bizarre love story that darkens her past. “The Wit of Porportuk” tells of an Alaskan Indian chief, famous for his generosity and extravagance, who runs up big debts to a miserly money lender. When the time comes to collect the debt, the lender, Porportuk, sees it as an opportunity to claim the chief’s beautiful daughter El-Soo for his mate. The girl, however, being very clever and well educated, comes up with a scheme to avoid becoming the greedy old man’s property. Neither party’s plans prove entirely successful, however, and just when you think you know where the story’s going, it turns in a shocking and unexpected direction.

Comparing the stories of Lost Face to London’s Klondike tales of a decade earlier, one really gets a sense of how much he progressed as a writer. These seven tales are rendered in smooth and beautiful prose, skillfully plotted, and remarkably vivid in their depiction of time and place. Reading Lost Face transports you to the bygone world of the exotic North. Through London’s eyes, it’s a wild and unpredictable place where the powerful beauty of nature is ever present, and invigorating adventure is commonplace.

Stories in this collection
Lost Face 
To Build a Fire 
That Spot 
Flush of Gold 
The Passing of Marcus O’Brien 
The Wit of Porportuk 

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Monday, September 24, 2012

An Autobiography by Jose Clemente Orozco

Largely absent from his own life story
Jose Clemente Orozco was one of the leaders of the Mexican mural movement and an important painter of the early 20th century. Unfortunately, you’re not going to learn much about him from this book. Though he lived through the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution and contributed to the dynamic transformation of Mexican art, Orozco seems remarkably blasé about it all. For the most part he reports political and cultural events with the detachment of a disinterested bystander, and says little about himself in the process.

Although Orozco writes with a degree of wry, cynical wit that’s not without its charms, the reader finds himself wishing for a little more sincerity. When moments of enthusiasm do appear, they are few and far between. One gets some inkling of the exuberance felt by the young Mexican artists as they determined to break with European traditions and form a uniquely Mexican expression. However, after enumerating the founding objectives of the revolutionary Syndicate of Painters and Sculptors, Orozco then goes on to explain how they failed to achieve almost every one of those objectives. Later in New York, Orozco becomes enamored with Dynamic Symmetry, the mathematical analysis of proportions in classical art conceived by Jay Hambidge. Orozco devotes several pages to Dynamic Symmetry, but his description of the theory is difficult to decipher. Perhaps this may be attributed to the translation by Robert C. Stephenson, which overall is way too literal, even going so far as to let the reader know that the “Venus de Milo” in fact means “Venus of Milo.” A little more syntactical license on the part of the translator would have made for a smoother read.

For the most part Orozco defines himself in negative terms. That is to say, he talks a lot about what he doesn’t believe in without telling us much about what he does believe in. He’s against the traditional academic methods of art instruction, but when modernism comes along and elevates the status of the uneducated artist, he’s against that too. He’s against the imperialism of European modernism, but doesn’t care much for the resurgence of indigenous pride in Mexico either. He doesn’t seem to want to commit to any political movement, or even to any nation. He considers himself a citizen of the world, and feels most at home in that most worldly of cities, New York.

A certain degree of egotism may be required to write a good autobiography. From this book one might surmise that Orozco had a very small ego indeed. His contemporaries Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros may have been pompous, self-aggrandizing blowhards, but perhaps that’s the kind of personality required to pen an interesting and engaging memoir. There may be a good biography of Orozco out there somewhere, but he didn’t write it.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

The Vendetta by Honoré de Balzac

A Corsican Romeo and Juliet
The Vendetta is a novella of about 65 pages in length, written by Honoré de Balzac and originally published in 1830. It is one of the earliest works in his extensive series of writings known as the Comédie Humaine.

Bartolomeo di Piombo is a Corsican who kills his neighbor’s family in accordance with a vendetta, or blood feud, between the two clans. He flees to Paris and asks his old friend Napoleon for assistance in establishing a life there. Flash forward fifteen years: the Bourbon monarchy has been restored, Napoleon has been defeated, and those formerly loyal to the Emperor have fallen into disfavor. Piombo’s daughter Ginevra has grown into a beautiful and intelligent young woman with a promising future as a painter. This innocent girl is destined for tragedy, however, as she must inevitably suffer the consequences of her father’s vindictive obsession.

While the premise set up in the opening chapter promises excitement and suspense, The Vendetta is really a rather conventional and familiar tale of forbidden romance between star-crossed lovers. The narrative takes the form of a series of tense and urgent conversations, all of which seem a bit unnecessarily long because their conclusions are so predictable. Balzac emphasizes the stubborn resoluteness of Bartolomeo and Ginevra as a trait characteristic of their being Corsican, but at times, particularly in the case of the daughter, their fierce conviction comes across as more robotic than passionate.

Perhaps the book’s greatest sin is its squandering of the blood feud as a plot element. If you’re going to introduce the extraordinary Corsican custom of vendetta into a novel, it should be made an integral part of the story. Here Balzac merely uses it as the source of a disagreement between father and daughter, an end he could have found 99 other ways to accomplish. While the vendetta provides the title for the book, in the story it merely feels like an afterthought.

Nevertheless, with his prodigious talents, it’s almost impossible for Balzac to write a bad story, and this novella is certainly not bad. His knack for crafting dramatic scenes and memorable characters is amply displayed here. Fans of the master’s work can certainly find much to appreciate in The Vendetta, but for casual readers of Balzac it’s not a must-read by any means.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life by A. A. Long

A helpful companion to the Discourses
This comprehensive look at Epictetus, the man and his thought, provides a wealth of valuable information for anyone hoping to read and understand the Stoic philosopher’s Discourses. The subtitle “A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life” is accurate only in reference to Epictetus himself as a guide; this book is not a practical “guide to life” per se, and might have been more aptly called “A Companion to the Discourses.” This book will not change your life, but it will help you understand the writings of Epictetus, which will change your life. The strength of this book is that it concentrates on Epictetus as an individual and not just as a member of the Stoic school. It emphasizes the ways in which his teachings differ from those of the earlier Stoics, and the strong influence that Socrates had on his philosophy and methodology.

Reading this book was frustrating at first because it felt like a lot of set-up with little payoff. The first five chapters provide a mother lode of background material on the life of Epictetus, his place in history, the record of philosophy up to that time, other schools of thought that were prevalent in his time, who Arrian was and how he transcribed Epictetus’s words, who Epictetus’s students were, plus an excessively detailed discussion of Epictetus’s rhetorical style and the methods he used to construct his arguments. It isn’t until chapter 6 that Long really starts analyzing the actual message of the Discourses, which is what I, and probably most readers, really want to get at. In the latter half of the book, Long’s insightful commentary on the Discourses is accompanied by a generous helping of judiciously selected excerpts, and Long’s translations of these are a pleasure to read. I would have preferred more of this concentration on Epictetus’s words themselves and less of the contextual foundation that preceded it. On the other hand, I thought the epilogue about the effect of Epictetus’s thought over the last 2,000 years was one of the more interesting parts of the book.

In his introduction, Long states he has “tried to make this book as accessible as possible,” but to that end he only achieves mixed results. At times the intended audience seems unclear. There is a lot of introductory material that would seem elementary to a philosophical scholar, yet there are more complex passages that seem directed towards Long’s peers and would probably be over the head of a novice. The result is a book that philosophy professors would probably love to assign to their students, but not one the average student himself would necessarily enjoy nor perhaps even understand. Those serious about the subject, however, will find it a rewarding read and well worth the effort.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Earth (La Terre) by Emile Zola

The second best novel of all time?
This book is a masterpiece. Had Zola not written the awe-inspiring Germinal, this would clearly be his greatest work. Zola does his best writing when he focuses not on Parisian society but rather on the lower classes: the laborers, the peasants, the working stiffs. In this case, his subject matter is the farmers of the Beauce, an agricultural region between Chartres and Orleans. Here, families have cultivated the same plots of land for generations. In fact, land itself is everything to these people, and they will do whatever they can to protect the earth they have, and to acquire as much more as they can before they die. When Old Fouan decides to divide up his holdings among his three children, no one is happy with the portion they receive. Their avarice of earth leads to mutual animosity and eventually to treachery. Jean Macquart, an affable, hard-working farmhand, is, like us, an outsider in this hermetic world, until he falls in love with a farmer’s daughter and becomes a participant in their private war.

The scope of the book is wide, and looks beyond the Fouan family to examine political and social issues of the time, including the effect of the impending Franco-Prussian War, the triumphs and failures of modern scientific farming methods, and how the market’s regulation of prices damns the farmers to eternal poverty. Zola’s description of the agricultural life, its rewards and its hardships, is vivid and moving. He neither romanticizes nor denigrates the farmer’s relationship to the land, but rather paints a realistic picture of dirty, exhausting toil that nonetheless has its physical and spiritual rewards.

The book achieves a tremendous range of mood. It’s like an emotional roller coaster. There are passages in the book which are downright terrifying. Elsewhere there are moments which are laugh-out-loud funny. Zola obviously had a lot of fun writing the more light-hearted scenes in the book. He includes everything from a farting contest to a vomiting donkey. Overall, however, this novel is a dark portrayal of human greed and selfishness, and the brutal lengths to which people will go to satisfy their hunger for property. This book should be read by all.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Martin Eden by Jack London

An inspirational yet cautionary tale
In reward for an act of good samaritanism, Martin Eden, an uneducated working-class sailor, is invited to dinner at the home of the bourgeois Morse family. Upon first sight of lovely young Ruth Morse, he immediately falls in love with her. Over the course of the evening, Martin becomes enamored with the family’s luxurious home, refined lifestyle, and cultured education, and aspires to raise himself to their level. With the intention of transforming himself into a man worthy of marrying Ruth, he sets upon a rigorous course of self-education. Soon he develops a passion for writing, and resolves to make his fortune as a man of letters.

What follows is the long, arduous journey of Martin’s ascent. His struggles as an aspiring writer are totally captivating; one can’t help but rejoice in his successes and agonize over his failures. The portions of the book devoted to his literary exploits are so engrossing, the romance between Martin and Ruth often seems a cumbersome distraction. Though a realist and radical in his political and philosophical writings, London was often a hopeless romantic and downright puritanical in his depictions of male/female relations. In his works women are often set on pedestals, and no one gets a higher pedestal than Ruth Morse. Even so, as Mr. and Mrs. Morse deliberate over whether Martin is worthy of their daughter, the reader finds himself wondering whether Ruth is really worthy of Martin. Thankfully, as the book progresses and the characters gain a little maturity, the relationship between Martin and Ruth becomes less idyllic and much more firmly grounded in reality. As Martin’s superheroic quest for self-transformation lurches toward fruition, he comes to realize that the result of his metamorphosis is not the paradise he envisioned.

Whether you come to admire Martin or abhor him, this is an exceptionally thought-provoking novel that calls into question the inherent value of social status and intellectual achievement. What begins as a simple boy-meets-girl, rags-to-riches tale gradually progresses into a profound investigation into the complex conflicts of man vs. society, class vs. intellect, artistic integrity vs. exploitation, individualism vs. conformity, and ambition vs. complacency. This semi-autobiographical novel was Jack London’s greatest attempt to break free from the ghetto of adventure fiction to which he was so often undeservedly confined, and to write the sort of philosophical literary novel one might expect from a Dickens or a Balzac. To this end he was extremely successful. Martin Eden is a life-changing read that deserves a place on any bookshelf alongside the great classics of literature.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse

Great author, disappointing work
I am an admirer of Hermann Hesse’s novels, but found little to enjoy in this work. The narrator, H.H., tells of his membership in a mysterious, mystical organization called the League, and a historic pilgrimage they made called the Journey to the East. Unfortunately, like Fight Club, the first rule of the League is Don’t talk about the League. Hesse is so deliberately vague about the League and the Journey that there’s little to hold onto or be interested in. Ambiguity in and of itself is neither enlightening nor profound. I’m surprised that so many readers find so much depth in this skeleton of a novella. I understand that it shares some of the atmosphere of Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game, but it’s vastly inferior to either one of those great works. Like a sketch quickly tossed off by Picasso, it has value in that it was created by a master, but it doesn’t compare to his masterpieces.

If you are a scholar researching Hesse, I suppose this work could provide a valuable look into his mind set at a particular period of his life. For the general reader, however, I don’t think it’s a particularly inspiring work of literature. If you’ve read all the Hesse you can find and just can’t get enough of him, then by all means read it. Otherwise, treat yourself to The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund, or Beneath the Wheel, and steer clear of this one.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The perfect escapist novel
The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the greatest novels ever written. In terms of pure entertainment value, it can’t be beat. Though nowadays Alexandre Dumas may be more renowned as the creator of The Three Musketeers, this book is undoubtedly his greatest work.

Originally published in 1844, this epic tale of adventure takes place from 1815 to 1838 in France, Italy, Greece, and numerous islands in the Mediterranean. Edmond Dantès, a young sailor from Marseille, has been doubly blessed. Not only is he about to wed the beautiful love of his life, his employer has also just promoted him to the rank of ship’s captain. Such good fortune inspires envy, and a few of his malcontented acquaintances conspire to rob from him all that he holds dear. At this time Louis XVIII ruled France, and Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. The conspirators denounce Dantès as a Bonapartist spy, and he is locked up in a dungeon within the prison of Château d'lf. Through a series of extraordinary events best not spoiled, Dantès eventually gets out of prison, assumes the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo, and devotes his life to wreaking vengeance upon the men responsible for his imprisonment. Contrary to many of the movie versions of the book, his revenge does not take the form of a simple sword fight. Instead, Dantès devises wickedly elaborate schemes to punish his adversaries by destroying their reputations, ruining them financially, and crushing them emotionally. In the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo, Dantès essentially becomes a superhero. He possesses unlimited wealth, unlimited knowledge, an unlimited talent for any pursuit that interests him, and seemingly unlimited luck. Without a doubt, the book defies believability, but so what? Despite the far-fetched nature of the protagonist’s almost supernatural abilities, it is an absolute joy to watch his plans come to fruition.

All this unfolds over the course of 117 chapters with never a dull moment. The book features an ensemble cast of dozens of memorable characters, all of whom are somehow linked to one another in mysterious ways. Over the course of the book, as secret pasts are uncovered, an ingenious, byzantine web of interconnectivity is revealed—this character is the illegitimate son of that one, one character is the former lover of another, this character murdered the other one’s father, etc. One can only imagine the labyrinthine collage of index cards Dumas and his writing partner August Maquet might have utilized to construct this intricate masterpiece.

To fully appreciate this book, some knowledge of European history is required. Napoleon’s Hundred Days or the assassination of the Pasha of Yanina may have been fresh in the minds of Dumas’s audience, but today’s reader might require a few quick trips to Wikipedia to fully understand the story’s historical context. This fascinating tale is well worth the extra effort.

This review primarily focuses on the novel’s entertainment value, but it does have higher literary merit as well. It delves deeply into serious themes of vengeance, justice, and forgiveness. Dantès represents the living embodiment of God’s retribution—not necessarily the Christian God, but a more stoic conception of God as universal providence. As the Count of Monte Cristo, he is the conduit through which karma is served. The guilty are punished, and the good are rewarded. Dumas serves up provocative food for thought, delivered in an immensely delightful package. If you have not read this book, do so now.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Millennium by Upton Sinclair

A disappointment by a great author
I think one of the characters sums it up best about a third of the way through when she says, “Why! It’s like a bad joke by some Socialist!” I’m quite sympathetic towards Upton Sinclair’s political views, but after having read this book, his sense of humor escapes me. The story takes place in the year 2000, when America is ruled with an iron boot by some wealthy oligarchs. Through a freak occurrence, everyone on earth is vaporized except 11 people. They split into two groups, one of which starts a Capitalist society; the other embraces Socialism. Sinclair originally wrote it as a play, then adapted it into a novel. The idea would have made a fine 20-minute skit at a Socialist Party Christmas pageant in 1924, but stretched out into a 250-page novel it is tedious and uninspired. Although intended as a comedy, there’s a whole 50+ page section on the horrors of capitalism that contains no humor at all and just goes on and on and on. This variety of Socialist satire was pulled off far more successfully by Jack London on several occasions, most notably in his short story “The Strength of the Strong”.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

An epic battle between realism and allegory
This novel, first published in 1895, is one of the most gritty and vivid portrayals of combat in the history of literature. Author Stephen Crane not only accurately captures the intensity of combat, but also the day-to-day tedium of the soldier’s life, the confusing lack of communication on the battlefield, and the taxing physical and mental toll on the combatants. Crane subverts the tradition of the epic war novel, stripping away the romance to reveal the realistic hopes and fears of a reluctant warrior. The Red Badge of Courage tells the story of Henry Fleming (usually referred to simply as “the youth”), a new enlistee in the Union army. Henry enters the war with grandiose notions of achieving honor and glory. When his regiment finally proceeds to the battlefield, however, Henry begins to question his own valor and wonders if he will run in the heat of battle. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Henry does flee. Troubled with shame and remorse for this lack of cowardice, he resolves to redeem himself, fight with bravery, and earn back his pride and his manhood, even if it costs him his life.

Stylistically, this book represents a turning point in American literature. On the one hand Crane builds upon the naturalistic narrative style of classic writers like Tolstoy and Zola. On the other hand, by focusing on the psychological dimensions of war rather than on actual historical events, he exhibits the nascent stirrings of modernism. Due to this unique internal perspective on combat, the book was hailed for its innovation and unconventionality. While there’s no doubt this novel was ground breaking for its time, the effect on the 21st century reader is less than stunning.

Although The Red Badge of Courage takes place during the American Civil War, there’s little that ties it to any specific time, place, or battle. The book is more of a universal statement on war than a depiction of any specific conflict. In striving for this universality, however, Crane unintentionally alienates the reader. The character of Henry stands as a symbol for Man in War, but ultimately fails to resemble a living, breathing person. Crane tries so hard to make his protagonist an Everyman, he only succeeds in making him a nobody. While any human being can empathize on a basic level with Henry’s thoughts and emotions, his utter ambiguity hinders any truly meaningful involvement or identification on the part of the reader. Like the other ciphers he encounters in the book—the tall soldier, the loud soldier, the tattered soldier—he bears little more individuality than the horses that populate the battlefield. Crane writes brilliant prose, crafting poetically powerful scenes of carnage, but the overall structure of the novel, or lack thereof, is disappointing. Despite the brevity of the book, it is quite repetitive in its themes. Henry’s mind set constantly vacillates between the shame of cowardice and the desire for glory. The pointlessness of war, the incompetence of the commanders, and the cluelessness of the participants are all relentlessly hammered home. The final message of the book, however, remains unclear. Through his depiction of battle as haphazard, undignified, and futile, Crane undermines the illusion of the glory of war, yet in the end he seems to argue that it’s an essential illusion, necessary for the transformation of boys to men.

Historically, the Red Badge of Courage has rightfully earned its place in the hallowed halls of American literature, but whether it’s deserving of a spot on the bookshelf of the contemporary reader is debatable. If you really like war stories, it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy it.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Before Adam by Jack London

An australopithecine delight
Before Adam is a science fiction novel by Jack London, first published in 1907. It is based around Darwin’s theory of evolution and the idea of racial memory. The narrator is a self-described “freak of nature” who has the ability to consciously experience the ancestral memories of a distant progenitor. By day he’s a typical San Francisco gentleman living in the early twentieth century. By night, however, in his dreams, he becomes this prehistoric ancestor, whom he refers to as Big-Tooth. This bygone ancestor was an evolutionary link between ape and man, between tree dweller and ground dweller, who inhabited a primeval wilderness at times idyllic, at times harsh. Big-Tooth is a member of the Cave People, also known amongst themselves simply as the Folk. These creatures are more evolutionarily advanced than their neighbors, the simian Tree People, yet not as advanced as the Fire People, a more human-like species that wears animal skins, builds fires, and hunts with bow and arrow. Through the memories of Big-Tooth, the reader is introduced to other members of the Folk, including his best friend Lop-Ear, his nemesis Red-Eye, and the love of his life, the Swift One. These australopithecine humanoids spend most of their time gathering food and engaging in social play. On rare occasions they may make a ground-breaking discovery like gourds can be used to carry things or logs can be used to float down a river. Big-Tooth and his companions live in a dangerous world, however, and they must be ever vigilant against attacks by saber-toothed tigers, giant snakes, the mysterious Fire People, or each other.

London was fascinated by evolution, and his zealous enthusiasm for the subject really shines through in this novel which must have been a labor of love for him. He constructs a detailed, naturalistic recreation of the daily lives of these early hominids, based upon the latest science of his time, which doesn’t seem to be too far off from what we now know a century later. London also manages to create distinct, memorable characters of these creatures, each with an individual personality, much as he had done previously with dogs in his Klondike novels. From the simple lives of these apemen London crafts an exciting and absorbing story loaded with drama and adventure. The commentary of the modern narrator also adds an interesting perspective to the book, as he uses biological science and evolutionary theory to speculate as to the reason for his bizarre ability to recall these prehistoric memories.

The world of Before Adam is founded on a mixture of sound science and sci-fi speculation. There’s nothing utterly profound about this novel, but it does provide a lively and enjoyable reading experience. The eighteen short chapters breeze by in a flash, and the ending comes all too soon. One really becomes engaged in the simple joys, fears, and loves of these subhuman characters. This novel is a shining example of how London used his prodigious skills as a writer and his vivid, audacious imagination to transcend the typical boundaries of the adventure fiction genre and create original, compelling work that stands the test of time.

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