Coffee, the Sober Drink

Review Grab Bag # 6

HISTORY

The Roman Republic by Michael Crawford

The Roman Republic by Michael Crawford seeks to give an overview of the time period of Roman history between 390 BC to the time of Julius Caesar. The book is less than 300 pages long and packs a ton of information in that little space. As far as getting a pile of facts about the Roman Republic goes, this book is worth a read. However, there were many times when I felt like I was simply reading through lists of names and events with little or no context. Thankfully many of the names were familiar from reading through Livy, but for someone looking for an introduction to the Roman Republic, this books would be, on the one hand, not detailed enough, and, on the other hand, confusing precisely because of this lack of detail.

3/5 stars

Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart

Before reading this book, I knew roughly three things about Dostoevsky:
1) he was Russian, 2) he wrote Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and 3) he was a Christian. That’s about it. Leithart’s book helped me to get to know Dostoevsky the man a bit, and see how his life shaped his work. I couldn’t get used to the format of the book, however. It is not intended to be historical fiction, but unlike a normal history book, the story is told within the frame of a fictionalized conversation between Dostoevsky and a friend. Having read Leithart’s phenomenal book on Constantine last year, I was hoping for something similar here, albeit on a smaller scale. Maybe this is a common characteristic of the “Christian Encounters” series of biographies published by Thomas Nelson. As I said, this book gave me a start on Dostoevsky and his life, but I think at some point I’ll read the more academic biographies listed by Leithart in his bibliography and avoid this series in the future.

3/5 stars

HOLMES

Ah, Sherlock Holmes. After this year, I only need to read The Valley of Fear and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes to complete all of the Holmes short stories and novels. There’s nothing like a Sherlock Holmes story for a nice relaxing read.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This was a great collection of stories that shows a more human side to Holmes than some of the earlier ones. Here’s my rundown on the stories in this collection with some random observations:

“The Silver Blaze”: An awesome Sherlock Holmes story. One of the best.
“The Yellow Face”: This was a not-so-good story. Holmes doesn’t detect anything at all. The premise would make a great short story/novella without Holmes, but Holmes is totally unnecessary to the plot.

“The Stock-Broker’s Clerk”: This was a good story with a nice reveal.
“The Gloria Scott” This was Holmes’ first case. Like the Yellow face, it seems to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s attempt to write an exciting story and attach Holmes’s name to it, though Holmes is totally unnecessary to the story.

“The Musgrave Ritual” This was really exciting. It could have been turned into a novel like A Study in Scarlet with a little more stuff. There is a great description of Holmes and Watson and their lifestyle:

“An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humors, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.”

“The Reigate Puzzle”: This was awesome! It has all the elements of a perfect Holmes mystery. One of my favorites ever!

“The Crooked Man”: This one is okay, but mostly for the backstory.

“The Resident Patient”: This was another great one. Holmes is really great in this one.

“The Greek Interpreter”: This was a great story, but it suffers from a severe lack of Holmes.

“The Naval Treaty”: This was another really good story.

“The Final Problem”: This story is the result of Doyle's boredom with his character. He wanted to conveniently dispose of Holmes. I wouldn’t mind this at all, especially since I’ve already read the story where he returns, due to the pressure of popular demand on Doyle. However, all the interesting parts of the story are either deduced by Watson or told as off-screen events. Holmes’s meeting with Moriarty and his final struggle with him at the falls are all secondhand accounts, which makes the story much less exciting than it could be.

4/5 stars

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

This story, wherein Holmes sets out to solve the mystery of a supernatural demon-dog, which is plaguing a particular family, is the essence of Sherlock Holmes. This book contains everything that makes a Holmes story great, and is the best of the novels I’ve read so far.

5/5 stars

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