Animal Farm

Not only a masterful satire, but also a better lesson in history, politics and human nature than most textbooks.

Animal Farm was first published in 1945, four years before writer George Orwell’s second masterpiece, 1984. This short novel – usually printed with between 50 and 100 pages – is the allegorical tale of a revolution on a farm. The animals are tired of being exploited by their non-producing human masters and kick them out. What follows is the corruption of a utopia, brought about by the thirst for power of the new leaders of the farm, the pigs.

Orwell’s target was the USSR. The old boar’s speech in the beginning of the story, which prompts the animals into action, bears many similarities to The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engles. The two pigs who alternately rule Animal Farm were caricatures of Stalin and Trotsky.

But this story could apply to any government, much like how the extremism of Big Brother in 1984 has many parallels to much more moderate modern governments, including our own. It also clearly illustrates the common phrase, adapted from Lord Acton, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Not only one of the most masterful satires ever made, Animal Farm is also a better lesson in history, politics and human nature than most textbooks. We see the essential elements of a totalitarian government: the cult of personality, propaganda and fear and the concept Orwell later called doublethink, which is also known as cognitive dissonance. When you are told outright lies, how do you react?

Revolutions come and go, and while there may be good reasons for them, Orwell teaches us that what comes next can be much worse.

Frankenstein’s Monster: A Tortured Creature

In Mary Shelley’s iconic work Frankenstein, she paints a picture of a creature that didn’t mean to be what it was. He wasn’t a monster, but a human being who was simply stitched together from spare parts. He had an intellect and a soul, but to the people around him, he was simply a monster.

It’s no wonder he ended up doing what he did. Victor Frankenstein was more of a monster than the creature he created. As the book ends, father and creature sink to the depths in polar water and assumed the end of them both.

Other books have tried to expand on the Frankenstein mythos and movies have tended to treat him less than a tortured soul and more of the monster. It’s a classic case of people fearing what they don’t know. Had Frankenstein accepted the creature and spent time helping him learn and letting the world see him for what he was.

Instead, Frankenstein treated the creature like property. It was an experiment that needed to be hid away even though it longed to be outside. It had no social skills and no way to deal with the unknown forces of the outside world.

The operations used to create him, left the creature hideous and corpse-like. He was treated like a dog by Frankenstein and it’s not surprising he escaped. The people who saw him thought he was a monster and he changed his behavior to suit. Had things been treated differently, Frankenstein could have had a very different ending.


Two books college students should read before graduation

There are still a few months before the newest batch of recent college grads will stumble out into the world, weak-kneed, too smart and loaded down with student loan debt. We all wish them well. Since this will be only the second spring since I graduated from college, I still understand the difficulties, decisions and achievement that will befall the new grads as they take their first few steps as tottering adults. Personally, I was pretty glad when I had some of these wise, wise thinkers and writers to guide me through my days as recent college grad—let’s take a look at a few of the books I think young people should read before they graduate from college.


Into the Wild by John Krakauer. Into the Wild tells the story of a recent Emory grad, Christopher McCandless, and his quest to go off the grid in the wilds of Alaska. The book is two-parts inspirational and one-part cautionary tale. First, McCandless is admirable because he wants to get away from the constant quest for extreme success required by every American—every college student should take their early-twenty-something free period to re-evaluate if they’re doing what they really want to be doing. But McCandless also has a serious indestructible complex that I’ve see from many young people—you may be young, but you aren’t invincible. The book taught me that I could be adventurous, but I shouldn’t make myself a burden for my friends, family or environment.


A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. My university assigned this long-form essay by Woolf when we were freshmen. It’s particularly appealing to women and feminists, speaking towards the reason that women had never had a thinker as successful as Shakespeare because they were too financially tied to men, and didn’t have a quiet, solitary place in which to work, hence the name of the work. While this is certainly true for the history of women thinkers, it’s also fair to say that it will be extremely relevant to recent grads. They’ll have had four years to meander through difficult questions in quiet libraries and lonely dorm rooms with a meal card in hand. The “real world” isn’t always kind of artists—financially or otherwise—so beware of sharing one-bedroom apartments with three people, etc…if you’re inclined to produce artistically.


What are some books that you think every college graduate should read before graduation?






Dr. Who: The Books Versus The Show

Anyone that has loved a television show knows that if it’s a science fiction or horror genre show, there’ s likely going to be some book tie-ins. It only makes sense that one of Britain’s biggest shows of all time would have their fair share of books come out over the years.

Dr. Who has been around since television as black and white and then got new look back in 2005. It’s been a huge success ever since and the books have been rolling out en mass. There is a difference between the writers of the books and the writers of the television show… they are completely different people.

You’ll have the same group of talented writers put together season after season of the television show, meeting every week to discuss plot lines and how all the episodes are going to fit together. Book writers are contracted outside the realm of the television show. Publishers pick out the writers based on who they know and submission acquired from fans who happen to be authors as well.

The books can be completely different than the television show and should never be considered canon. The books can featured people that died on the show or completely contradict what happened on the television episodes. This is especially true of Doctor Who because you’ve got 50 years of stories to draw from.

Books are static. Once they are out, nothing changes. So, if a book was written before a specific episode aired that killed off an important character, then that person may show up in the book after a point where he died…then again, he is a Time Lord after all.

War of the Worlds

There are few science fiction works that have had the impact on the genre and society as H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. In a time where science was still in its infancy and technology was far below the standards we know today, Wells had the imagination to think of massive alien ships, heat rays and technologies far beyond the capabilities of that time.


The world didn't have a chance against these alien invaders and when all seemed lost, it was the hand of God that stepped in and saved the world. The simple viruses and bacteria that we have become immune to were deadly to the marauding aliens.

Wells' work became the inspiration for many to come and was the foundation for the alien invasion story. If you look at today movies, they follow the same style as Wells. The blockbuster Independence Day was the exact same story, but you replace a physical virus for a computerized one. Perhaps it was the infamous Orson Welles radiocast that cemented its place in history. If you can make the public believe that the world is actually being invaded, then the story is pretty amazing.


There have been low and big budget movies based on the story and I am sure there are many more to come. War of the Worlds has become to science fiction what Romeo and Juliet has become to tragedies. Wells' look at the world and the fragility of our “supremacy” was sobering. It served as a reminder that just because we consider ourselves superior that could change at any moment.


Of all the plays of Shakespeare that I have read, Macbeth is by far my favorite. It has iconic characters and really hits home the idea that greed can make even the best of people do bad things.

Macbeth is set in Scotland and your tragic hero Macbeth is one the King’s best and most loyal servants. While out one night, he comes across a group of three witches that tell him he will one day be king. This plants the idea into his head and his wife adds to the encouragement telling that he should kill the king.

At this point, Macbeth is on the top of the world and feeling the confidence. He was successful in battle, received a lot of new land, but it’s not enough he wants more. He and his wife kill the king setting up the events of their ultimate downfall. The both suffer from the guilt of killing and innocent man and Macduff comes to realize what happened and rallies the forces against Macbeth.

Ultimately, Macbeth’s wife goes insane and Macbeths suffers the tragic fall. In my opinion, you cannot get much more of a well-crafted tragedy then Macbeth. Shakespeare was at the top of his game with this play. It has great elements like the witches, amazing plot and you honestly feel sorry for Macbeth at the end. It was clearly a case of greed gone to extremes and as soon as he did it, Macbeth knew it was wrong. This play still gives me shivers and I would do anything to see it live.

The Final Harry Potter; Deathly Hallows

When I started reading the Harry Potter series so many years ago, I really loved the books. Rowling did an amazing job of creating a world that was new and exciting and characters that you really grew to know and love.


I loved the books right up until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Goblet of Fire was my favorite, but with Order things started to get too dark and depressing and it continued this way through Deathly Hallows. The story went from a boy who was trying to learn and become powerful enough to beat Voldemort to a angry man that began to lose everyone around him.


His parents, godfather, mentor and even friends had to be sacrificed in his battle against Voldemort. Many would say that Rowling simply brought some reality into the mix, but Deathly Hallows was chock full of depression and anger.


Deathly Hallows isn't a book that I would want my children to read. It's something that I wouldn't want them reading until they are older and can process and handle the events that go on. As a story, I found Deathly Hallows rather boring in comparison to the other books and the flash forward ending left me unsatisfied


As a writer, I know the difficulty of an epic ending, but Harry Potter ended with a whimper and I had a difficult time getting through the book. I put it down several times only to pick it up again a few weeks later. I ended up reading books in between and when it was finally over I was simply relieved to be done reading it.

History of the Kings of Briton

You would think that with a title like “History of the Kings of Briton” the book would be a major snoozefest, but you wouldn't be further from the truth. The book was written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth and was more about legends of the kings of England than the actual history.


The book was put together using the best research available at the time, but when your starting with the Trojans founding the British nation and going all the way until the seventh century when the Anglo-Saxons took over, you're going to have to fill in some gaps.


If you take a close look, there is definitely some historical facts, such as the invasion of Julius Caeser, but the events surrounding those events are not even close to being accurate. Still, the book remains an important part of English literature, which was the class where I first read it.


You'll find that the heroes of English monarchy had a lot of help from the gods and more than a little magic. This makes for an entertaining read to say the least. Whether it's Aeneas's grandson discovering the land after being banished from Troy and guided by Diana or Merlin helping a young King Arthur.


Much of the legend of King Arthur from the help of Merlin to his wounding my Mordred are covered in the book and has been an inspiration to authors centuries afterward. If you are looking for a great piece of classical English literature, then you will find nothing better than “History of the Kings of Briton.” If you are looking for a factual history about England, then look somewhere else.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I think everyone remembers the Disney movie and various series that have been on television and in the movies about the Lewis Carroll story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. An ordinary, if not precocious, young girl follows a clothed white rabbit down a hole and winds up in the odd world of Wonderland.


What happens next is a psychedelic romp into what can only be considered a drug addled mind. This whole story seems like something that Marilyn Manson would dream about and make a video from. A little girl shrinks and grows by eating cakes and magic mushrooms. A caterpillar smoking a hookah dishes out sage advice while a Mad Hatter has a tea party.


Each character in this books acts like someone addicted to some kind of illicit substance. The white rabbit is always running around like a meth or coke addict. The queen is obviously coming down off something and is really cranky. The caterpillar and Cheshire are total potheads. Alice is just a young girl experimenting with anything she can get her hands on. Without question, she grabs what ever people give her and eats or drinks it.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a entertaining kid's story, but adults will be able to read it for what it truly advertisement for a 12-step program. Lewis Carroll was either already on something when he dreamed this place up or completely insane to start with. No one thinks of a hookah smoking caterpillar or a chat that disappear without having something to open their mind.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

There isn't a person in the United States that hasn't read some portion of this book in high school. The tragic story of star crossed lovers and the family feud that ended up killing them. Shakespeare has written many plays, but few are as well known as Romeo and Juliet.


It follows the story of the Montagues and the Capulets, two families in Verona, Italy that have hated each other for generations. Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love, but know that their families would never allow them to be together. Juliet takes a potion that makes her appear dead, so she and Romeo can escape, but he doesn't realize it's only temporary and kills himself rather than live without her. Juliet wakes and sees her dead lover and kills herself as well.


Their deaths make the two families realize how stupid the feud is and they decide to end it. This is a textbook example of a tragedy. Shakespeare never really believed in a Hollywood ending and killing off his main characters was pretty par for the course. I have read this story several times over the years both for personal enjoyment and as a requirement for various classes.


I think it's so popular because we have all had that one love that seemed doomed from the start. It could have been the high school romance that couldn't make it through the distance of college. The love who wanted a commitment, but you just couldn't do it. We all have had a love like Romeo and Juliet even if it didn't end in the same way.