Book Review: Lord Jim (1900)

(first published on 9-11-2004) at this location

Lord Jim – Jospeh Conrad (1857-1924)

Original Language: English
Published: 1899-1900 (in serial form)
Genre: Fiction
Edition: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics (1986); includes an Introduction written by Cedric Watts, as well as notes, a glossary, a timeline concerning the events of the novel, and a map of Southeast Asia
Pages: 307

That Joseph Conrad is recognized as one of the 20th Century’s best authors is quite an achievement, given that English was not his native tongue. His first language was Polish, and his second was French, but to readers of the English language, we are fortunate indeed that he chose to write in his third language. Lord Jim is on the surface a tale of adventure, but lurking not far beneath is a character study that delves deep into the mind of its young protagonist, Jim.

The telling of the story is not linear; that is to say; we learn facets of Jim’s life in bits, skipping time and place. Furthermore, most of Jim’s story is told by Marlowe, his confidant and friend, who also makes appearances in several other of Conrad’s works (including Heart of Darkness). So suffice to say, you may be confused at several points in the reading, but I believe that this method makes the novel much more interesting and thought-provoking; I simply can’t imagine Lord Jim being as effective if it was written in a linear fashion. We start with a view of a simple water-clerk, and over the next 300 or so pages learn bits about his compelling experiences along the way, and are so deftly let into Jim’s mind, that, by the end of the novel, can almost predict his reactions, and ultimately, his fate.

Conrad is viewed as a bridge between the classical and modernist schools of writing, which makes him such a unique literary figure. His enigmatic Heart of Darkness is justifiably known as his greatest work, but Lord Jim is also an outstanding literary achievement for the same reasons; in fact, Conrad had intended for Lord Jim to be a counterpoint to Heart of Darkness and had wanted both to published together along Youth. 

Book Review: The Histories

(first published on 8-20-2004) at this location

The Histories – Herodotus (484-428 BC)

Original Language: Greek

Written: 5th century BC

Genre: History

Translation: George Rawlinson

Volume: Great Books of the Western World, Volume 6 (copy. 1952)

Pages: 314 (roughly 700 paperback-sized pages, as the text is condensed)

Difficulty (from 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest): 4

This work is considered the world’s first work of history, and is a fantastic introduction to Ancient Greek literature. This isn’t your standard academic history book, however; Herodotus gives very interesting accounts of the various cultures spread across Europe and Asia along the way.

I heartily recommend having a map of the known world circa 450 BC handy when reading The Histories, as you may become lost in some places. Most editions include maps of Greece, the Persian Empire, and Africa with the text, which help immensely with the myriad of place names mentioned by Herodotus. Besides that, the book is pretty accessible without any prior knowledge of ancient history. The book relates mainly the histories of the Greeks and the Persians, with the climax being the two crucial battles between the two; The Battle of Marathon, and the Battle of Salamis. The last three “books” are the most entertaining of the work, as it concerns the clash between the clash of Xerxes’ great invasion force with the (mostly) united Greeks in one of the most pivotal times in the history of civilization. After the conflict with the Persian Empire ended, one of the most remarkable intellectual periods in history began in Athens, judging by who followed Herodotus on my list.

The major difficulty in reading this book is keeping track of place names and people (this site should help). Herodotus sometimes shuttles people in and out and leaves the main storyline for pages at a time in examining side stories. But if you contain your frustrations, by the last third of The Histories, you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.