July 09, 2015

Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson

I enjoyed the first book, Three Cups of Tea, much more than I enjoyed this one.  This one just seemed a little too self-congratulatory for my taste.  Sure, promote yourself, but don't do it in a way that comes across as bragging, which is kind of what this one did.  That being said, it did offer some interesting insights into the way foreign government is run and the hazards and tribulations that charities can run into.

After Three Cups of Tea, Stones Into Schools takes up the story of where Mortenson left off building schools with his newly formed charity Central Asia Institute.  He expands into Afghanistan and still maintains services in Pakistan, building schools in the most remote areas of the countries.  The book covers how he worked with locals, officials, and got all of these projects off the ground.  It also talked about the small staff he hired and their job duties.

Greg is very much in favor of himself.  And he has done some wonderful things, he has a reason to be.  But the way he narrated it in this book was off-putting and show-boaty, ,and it didn't really leave you liking him for those reasons.  It could just be my personal take on it, but I felt like he was almost exaggerating when he described the different experiences he had and how he handled them.  He was fair to everyone else though and you could tell he appreciated the people he was helping.  And he also liked his staff and thought they had wonderful skills.  So he redeems himself in that way.

You learn a lot about local politics in the regions in this book.  The paperwork, the troubles, the bribing that needs to happen to get things done.  It's a little mind boggling actually.  And then there's how cheap it is to build a school.  Often it isn't as much as a wing would be on a school here in the United States.  They just want so much to learn, they'll study anywhere, including an old public toilet (according to the book).   There is a nice section of pictures in the middle of the book, in case you want to see some of the people/places that Mortenson talks about.

Overall it was ok, but I could have preferred less grand-standing.  Three Cups of Tea is definitely the book to read if you're going to read any of his books.

Stones into Schools
Copyright 2009
420 pages

July 02, 2015

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

You don't have to like Card to recognize that this is a superb piece of writing.  Reading this book has always been powerful to me.  You get hooked in from the first page and it's hard to put it down after that.  And it's great that it could be read as a standalone, but is part of a series in case you want to continue Ender's story.

Ender is a brilliant child.  So much so in fact that he was specifically bred to take part in a program designed for gifted kids.  You see, families aren't allowed to have more than two children on future Earth, but Ender's family was given special permission to have him.  When at first they remove his monitor though, he think he's flunked out.  But time shows that he is about to be groomed to become a commander of the fleet.  The buggers are a constant threat in humanity's eyes and the school Ender is sent to, floating in space, is specifically designed to train to neutralize that threat.

Ender is a fantastic character.  He is relatable even though he is a substantial amount smarter than your average person.  And he has so much going against him and so much expected of him.  You're right there with him with his pressures, frustrations, and triumphs.  All of the other characters pale beside him, yet they are still complete because they serve a purpose in a way.  Especially his brother and sister, who enter into politics and discussion and play their own games.  He also has several interesting classmates that play the games with him and they too are incredibly smart.  Although some of them can be quite vicious.

From my description you'd probably think this is an action book.  But that's just because I can't fully explain the themes and details in such a short time, you'd really need to read the book to get the full experience.  It does have action.  But it also has political commentary, social morality and lessons about making hard choices in life and the consequences of them.  There are gritty details and violence.  It's not a pleasant book at all.  But it's one that will make you think.  And it's so well written that the pace, characters and setting draw you in and don't let you go. 

One of my favorite books that I've read and one that I could read over and over.  If you've never read the book, or if you've only seen the movie, make sure that you read it, it's well worth it.

Enders Game
Copyright 1985
368 pages