Sunday, August 07, 2011
Books #24 and 25
Between May and August I read 4,000 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, and I finished the fourth volume just in time for publication of Volume 5. A Feast for Crows deals with the continuing chaotic devolution of the realm following the death of Robert Baratheon. Three of the five self-styled Kings of Westeros are dead, and new pretenders jockey for position and old survivors try to re-coup losses. Strange new religions arise as old ones attempt to regain power and authority in a vacuum of leadership. Although I like the complex politics and strategic manoeuverings of Martin's enormous cast, I was a bit disappointed to note that this volume is missing most of my favorite characters. Martin's brief epilogue claims that he will fill us in on their whereabouts in volume 5, which happens concurrently with volume 4 but in different regions. I suppose I can get through another 1000 pages before school starts--it's certainly much more interesting (and more believable, dragons and all) than that Girl With a Gazillion Special Talents series I read last summer.
I continue saturating myself with WW2, Nazism, and Holocaust studies in order to teach this era to middle-schoolers first trimester. Bullock's biography is straight-forward and very readable in the abridged version. Even though the subtitle is "A Study in Tyranny," the book sticks mostly to the life and accomplishments and failures of its subject. Bullock avoids psychoanalyzing Hitler or the German people. He doesn't speculate wildly about motives or events for which there is no documentation. The end result is a concise chronology of Hitler's life, from its humble beginnings through the early failures to the spectacular ascent and assumption of dictatorial powers.
Hitler comes across in these pages as a man of limited intellect but astonishing political instincts and an intense focus on goals. What's most surprising is the sustained patience of his early years, and the long struggle to create the Nazi party and win the Chancellorship. After that Hitler was anything but patient, and seemed to become overwhelmed by his own mythology and cult of personality, unleashing long-repressed hatreds and resentments in a fury for expansion and unparalleled atrocity.
I need to start deciding what I want the kids to understand about this guy. What questions get at the heart of his story? What connections can the kids make between their own experience and that of oppressed people in Europe at this time? What warnings does the past hold for us?