The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder
I adored Wilder’s Our Town the first time I saw it performed. It’s a simple story, but it reaches something deep within the reader because its poignant message is one we can all relate to. The core moments of the show are about the inevitable joys and sorrows of life. This slim Pulitzer-Prize winner is similar in the fact that it looks at what gives each life meaning.
Once again Wilder allows us into the lives of the characters, although this time we are in Lima, Peru. A bridge collapses in 1714 and five people are killed. A priest, Brother Juniper, tries to find some meaning in the accident by researching the lives of the people who were killed. We see each individual who is killed and learn about the people they were close to, including twin brothers, a stage performer, and a spurned mother. Each new life the priest explores is complex and beautiful. There is no black and white in a person’s life. They are not all good or evil; it’s never as simple as that.
BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful story about trying to find meaning in tragedy. Our Town remains my favorite piece by Wilder, but I will read more of his work as soon as I can.
"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."
David and Goliath
Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
by Malcolm Gladwell
In his trademark style, Gladwell takes a fascinating look at the way society views advantages and underdogs. He compares studies and historical cases to reach an interesting conclusion about perception vs. fact when it comes to getting ahead. I thought this one would be all about overcoming obstacles and rising above in difficult situations. Instead the book is about looking at the world differently. What’s really an advantage? Is it better to be a big fish in a little pond or little fish in a big pond? Is it really beneficial to have a small class of students or to attend an Ivy League school?
While I found both the content and the conclusions interesting, this book felt a bit less focused than Tipping Point or Blink in my opinion. I felt like the different examples and studies didn’t fit together as smoothly as they could have to illustrate his points. Many of the points he makes either felt like common sense deductions or like too much of a stretch. Learning about the impact of class size was interesting, but it never quite tied into the usage of propaganda during the Civil Rights movement. I learned a lot and enjoyed it, but it’s not my favorite.
BOTTOM LINE: I think I would enjoy just about anything Gladwell writes, but this one ranks farther down on the list for me. I would start with one of his earlier books if you’re new to his work.
The Social Contract
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This fascinating commentary on the way society works is packed full of wisdom. Rousseau explores the unspoken agreement each individual makes with the society in which they operate. He contends that many of our basic rights are not rights at all, but silent commitments everyone within our society makes to each other. The whole book is a wonderful resource and in lieu of a review I’ll leave you with some of my favorite lines.
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.”
“The greatest kings whose praises history tells were not brought up to reign: reigning is a science we are never so far from possessing as when we have learnt too much of it, and one we acquire better by obeying than by commanding.”
“No one has a right to demand that another shall do what he does not do himself.”
“I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slaves.”
“Men always love what is good or what they find good; it is in judging what is god that they go wrong.”