A Little History of the World

I enjoy trivia of all sorts, so when a friend loaned me his copy of E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, I gladly dove into many hours of fascinating reading.

A Little History of the World is a compact volume that tells us the story of mankind, from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb. Told as stories, it’s simple enough for young readers to understand without getting the feeling of being patronized, and entertaining enough for adults who have already gone through years of history classes.

Gombrich, an art historian (you may recognize the name from the book The Story of Art), wrote this book in 1935 with the intention of presenting a history of the world for younger readers. The book was actually originally written in German, was banned by the Nazis for being too “pacifist,” and was only translated in English by Gombrich himself (mostly, reportedly, but the book credits his assistant Caroline Mustill as the translator) towards the end of his life (he died in 2001, at 92, still working on it).

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No rants this time (Angels and Demons movie)


I enjoy reading Dan Brown, especially the Robert Langdon novels, because while you need to suspend your disbelief while reading the books, Brown knows how to build up a good chase.I’m also a sucker for art thrillers, and I love the interesting artsy details that are incorporated into the novels, traversing artistic hotspots such as the Louvre and Vatican City, and dissecting the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, and Bernini. 

Other than that I love scholarly protagonists (e.g. Paul in The Historian, Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Langdon hits the mark on that aspect.

I distinctly remember the first time I read Angels and Demons: in ebook format beamed to my phone from my computer, because I was in my last semester in college and I couldn’t afford to buy brand-new books then. Angels and Demons is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and I remember getting even more scared a couple of months later, when Pope John Paul II died and I was imagining an Angels and Demons scenario playing out. Of course, that was just in my head, and the conclave proceeded without any events that resembled the Dan Brown plot.

By the end of the year I bought a hardbound Robert Langdon omnibus at Fully Booked at 40% off, so it was less than P400. I also have fond memories of this book, as it was one of my cat Tomas’ (he died of kidney failure and cardiac arrest in November 2008) favorite perches when he was still a kitten.

Now I really didn’t like the Da Vinci Code movie, because it was so boring and I felt it copped out at the end so I didn’t have high expectations for Angels and Demons. I was out of town covering a race on opening week, so I decided to watch it as soon as I returned, never mind that everyone else I knew already saw it and I had to watch alone.

I normally have a problem with film adaptations, but I actually liked the Angels and Demons movie, which is surprising because the book is my favorite Dan Brown novel.Not that they didn’t deviate from the novel — they eliminated Maximilian Kohler, Father Silvano became Vittoria’s research partner, Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca turned into the Irish Patrick McKenna (hotness aside, I really had a hard time picturing Ewan McGregor in the role), Cardinal Baggia survived among the preferiti and became Pope (as opposed to Cardinal Strauss), and Langdon’s famous parachute escape was glaringly missing, among other things — but the pace was good and I didn’t nod off at any point in the movie like I did at Da Vinci Code. 

It’s not a movie for critical acclaim, but at least, unlike its predecessor, it stands up well enough alone that even those who haven’t read the book are able to follow the action.

I read at Dan Brown’s site that the third Langdon novel, The Lost Symbol, is coming out this September. I’ll definitely be reading that one.

My copy: Robert Langdon Omnibus, hardcover

My rating: Angels and Demons book 4/5 stars, Angels and Demons movie 3.5/5 stars

Rosie Dunne by Cecelia Ahern

Rosie Dunne and Alex Fletcher are best friends who are the living example of right love at the wrong time, for the most part of their lives, starting when they were five years old. Their story plays out in a series of letters, notes, emails, text messages, and IMs between themselves and their friends.

It’s way longer than it really needs to be (and the frustration builds up to the very end chapter — to the point you keep muttering, man, can’t you two just get it on?!?), but any girl who has fallen for the best friend type of guy will be able to relate to this book. It’s funny, yet poignant at the same time. I cried a lot reading it… maybe because I could relate to it so much.

My copy – mass market paperback, given up for mooching

My rating- 2/5 stars

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

People think that when they’ve read the Da Vinci Code, all other Grail mysteries will pale in comparison. Surprisingly, the Labyrinth holds up its own quite well, probably because of the difference between the two books.

I love the fact that Labyrinth is a female grail adventure, weaving a story between two female characters that live 800 years apart. Just recently Janeh and I were discussing the difference between male and female authors, and how they focused on different things (males plot driven, females detail-driven), and this novel is a good example.

In present day (2005), Alice Tanner stumbles into a hidden cave while on an archeological dig in the mountains of southwest France. She discovers two skeletons and a labyrinth pattern engraved on the wall and on a ring, which triggers visions of the past and propels her into a dangerous race against those who want the mystery of the cave for themselves.

This narrative alternates with the story of Alaïs, in the year 1209, a plucky 17-year-old living in the French city of Carcassone, a sort of free country (under tolerant Cathar Christians) that welcomes all religions, that has been declared heretical by the Catholic Church. The Crusaders siege the city, and Alaïs’s father, entrusts her with a book that is part of a sacred trilogy connected to the Holy Grail, but evil forces, including her sister Oriane, are out to get this sacred book for their own ends.

The stories are interwoven, with events mirrored in different situations experienced by the two women in their time.

There are some gory bits, surprising from a woman writer, and a lot of adventure — a medieval battle and a modern-day chase, all in one book! There’s even a love story, although I must commend how Mosse integrated into the story without it seeming contrived.

Mosse also skillfully spins out her yarn bit by bit, disclosing details a bit at a time, never fully revealing anything until the end of the novel, making it a page-turner to the very end.

Finally, I love her take on the Grail mystery, because it’s a refreshing point of view, a unique take on the Grail legend (ergo, without the conspiracy spin: she doesn’t claim it’s the truth, unlike Dan Brown, although she does come up with a lot of daring premises) that makes it an extraordinary read.

My copy: originally a mass market paperback, upgraded into a hardcover with dustjacket, mooched from the US

My rating: 5/5 stars

photo courtesy of http://hopeeternal.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/mosse-kate-labyrinth.jpg