Book Reviews, Culture, Non Recipes

What’s on my bookshelf? Review of old and new books – November 2020


In my post about why I don’t read the news I recommended you to read a book rather than watch countless TV shows – may it be fiction or non-fiction. With all the home office going on, that also frees up a lot of time for me to do some more reading. Here are my thoughts about some of the books that I have read through in the last weeks.

Saigon by Anthony Grey

Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam (English Edition) eBook: Grey, Anthony

With 812 pages, Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam by Anthony Grey is not one of those books that you can simply read through in one or two evenings. It’s the story of Joseph Sherman, the son of the American senator Nathaniel Sherman, who gets to visit French Indochina for the first time in 1925. The book then follows the life of Joseph and his family until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Not only academic and military duty keep Joseph continuously coming back to Vietnam, but also personal relationships.

The book aims to describe the French colonial rule and the following war through the story and involvement of three families: The Sherman’s, the French hunting guide and his son, as well as the family of a rich Mandarin that profited from the French colonial rule.

As the resistance of the Annamese to the French colonial rule prior to World War II starts to grow in French Indochina, the family of the Mandarin gets torn apart because one of his sons decides to join the Vietnamese communists in their mission to free the country. As if that is not enough, Joseph falls in love with the daughter of the Mandarin so that she gets pregnant from him. Of course, Lan, the daughter of the Mandarin, can’t marry him because she is expected to marry the son of the French hunting guide, Paul Deveraux. The bastard child gets brought up secretly in a Northern Vietnamese family and later joins the Vietminh to fight American forces in Vietnam.

In the end, torn-apart families fight against each other during the Vietnam war. And although a surprisingly large number of characters have to suffer and die in the book, it ends with a happy end. At least for Joseph.

Saigon is no masterpiece of literature. The characters of the story are relatable and the book is written in great detail with historical accuracy. Yet the voice of the author seems unadorned at times and the storyline is strictly constructed around real historical events. There are some elements of surprise to the plot, yet overall, it is fairly predictable.

What the book excels at are the insightful narratives of the societal changes and historical events. It is a well-researched book that doesn’t judge the war and its parties involved. Neither the Vietminh nor the American forces are angels or evil. The brutality of both sides is shown by the author. Violence, rape, and death and are recurring themes throughout the book.

Overall, Saigon is worth a read. The novel is very comprehensive and the suffering of the individual characters and families helps to bring the historical events alive. I hated history classes in school and anything that looks at history or cultures from a monotone academic viewpoint just bores me. If you think like me in this regard, I’m sure you will love this book. It’s an engaging and relatable read.

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World

I was positively surprised by Zakaria’s book. It’s very well written, although to be honest, much of Zakaria’s ideas are nothing new or revolutionary from a European point of view.

Zakaria claims that the US mishandles the Covid-19 pandemic because of too little and bad state involvement. The US population is supposedly in distrust of more regulation. Then he continues to praise European countries for their Covid-19 response.

Well, the European reaction to Covid-19 was hardly any better or more successful than the reaction of the US. It’s always bewildering to see people from the US praising Scandinavia or even Germany for their social welfare system. It is no paradise here.

The wages in Germany are comparatively low, the middle class gets its money robbed by high tax rates, and much of the social welfare money is spent horribly wrong. If you’re a worker in Germany, you hardly profit from the welfare system. We blindly transfer money to lower social classes without any positive effect. So, if you work a job, you should think twice if you want to finance such a “welfare” system that is nothing else than a blind redistribution of money. Throwing money at something is no solution to solve inequality.

On the other hand, Zakaria praises poor African countries and India for not locking down the economy because the poor people there need their jobs to not starve. But in my eyes, the situation is no different in Germany or the US. The working people here have no financial security. They need their jobs just as much to get through the crisis.

Overall, most of Zakaria’s predictions are rather positive than negative. Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World is a nice read if you have a free afternoon or evening. But please remember, Scandinavia and Western Europe are no sacred lands and they didn’t react in any better way to the crisis than the US did.

Corona, False Alarm? Facts and Figures by Sucharit Bhakdi and Karina Reiss

Corona Fehlalarm? von Sucharit Bhakdi

This book received a lot of criticism in Germany because the authors claim that the Covid-19 pandemic is nothing more than a kind of flu. According to Bhakdi and Reiss, scientists have most often been wrong with their predictions of horrific pandemics. They claim that there will be no second wave. Well ironically, in Germany the second wave is already there.

But just because there is a second wave now, that doesn’t invalidate all the arguments in the book. It is undeniable that almost all people who die from the Covid-19 pandemic have been ill before getting infected. They often don’t die because of but with the Covid-19 virus. Also, there are many other harmful behaviors in our society like excessive alcohol consumption that cause potentially many more deaths than the virus.

While the Covid-19 virus is not completely harmless, it is a valid concern and there should be an open discussion whether we really need to stop it. It is not a killer virus and I also remember very vividly from my early academic education that viruses don’t show exponential but logistic growth. The graph below shows the logistic growth of the ebola virus.

File:Diseased Ebola 2014.png - Wikimedia Commons
The spread of the ebola virus.

Even if we do nothing, the curve will eventually flatten at some point. The more we do about the spread of the virus, the longer the pandemic will last. It is a valid opinion to just let nature do its thing. Nothing can grow or spread forever. After a plateau is reached, the number of infections and cases will go down rapidly. It’s a tragedy if people lose their lives, but that’s also a part of life that we need to accept. Whoever lives, has the chance to die.

We will also at some point reach a peak with the world population. It can’t grow forever. A plateau will follow at some point, then it will decline. We are not above nature. A pandemic is a logical consequence of nature to solve the problem of overpopulation and not living in line with nature. Climate change will do the same thing. It will kill people. It’s a measure of population control that we have to endure and learn to live with.

In the Medieval ages, high child mortality and premature deaths were natural mechanisms of population control that we have successfully defeated. But we cannot eradicate all risks. Population (and virus) growth is never unlimited.

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