Of the books I’ve reviewed this year, the most somber, terrifying and menacing was The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein (Hamish Hamilton; reviewed in the Taipei Times Jan. 31). Not only does it give extensive information about private arms dealers — it also considers government involvement. It was reminiscent of the film The Lord of War, at the end of which the credits state that the planet’s biggest exporters of arms are the US, Russia, the UK, France and China — in other words, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It makes you think again about the kind of world we’re really living in.
Not necessarily an answer to the horror of the international arms trade, but nonetheless enormously fascinating as history, was the re-issue, finally in its complete form, of Victor Serge’s 1951 classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York Review of Books; reviewed June 5). Serge joined the Bolsheviks for a time while remaining resolutely opposed to all terror tactics, not to mention being a life-long opponent of the death penalty. Later he was sentenced to internal exile, and was lucky to be released after protests from writers in the West, ending his life in Mexico. His wonderful autobiography makes for a substantial and very invigorating read.
Back in the modern world, but a long way from most people’s experience of it, was Colin Thubron’s To a Mountain in Tibet (Vintage; reviewed July 31). It describes his approach to, and circuit of, Mount Kailash, a mountain considered so sacred that no one has apparently ever been to its peak. Thubron is simultaneously skeptical and open to all impressions. The Tibetan way of death is everywhere evident, but Thubron, 73 at the time, soldiers on with one guide and one porter, and no doubt a very good pair of boots.
Taipei Times file photo
From Penguin came the paperback of Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (reviewed Nov. 27). In it, this distinguished professor revisits 14 European nations that no longer exist, and relates their destinies with considerable gusto. This is a continent, you quickly come to realize, that has been ruled and fought over by diverse dynasties for thousands of years, with men being willing to lay down their lives for “king and country” when the country, let alone the king, proves to be very much a temporary phenomenon. It’s a lesson that should be learned by us all.
Lastly, a book that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind is Taipei-resident Eric Mader’s Heretic Days: Writings from the Margins of Christianity (CreateSpace, reviewed Feb. 28). It’s simultaneously learned, wide-ranging and bizarre, combining considerations of topics as various as Leonard Cohen, William Blake, St Thomas’s Gospel and the necessity of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. It’s endlessly fascinating, but so far from my usual areas of interest that I can only put its lingering in my consciousness down to the stubborn persistence, in Mader at least, of human independence and resolution.
Taipei Times file photo
COVID-19 has been racking the world, and there’s hardly a person alive who doesn’t want to see 2020 in the rear view mirror. Taiwan of course has proven to be an island of safety during this epidemic. In appreciation of that as well as giving 2020 an early send off, Brandon Thompson, Adoga, and Taipei Next have prepared a fitting music fest, “Forget 2020” or in the vernacular, “F#ck 2020.” It’s a late-night-early-morning festival where you’ll hear some 30 vocalists and musicians performing many of your favorite songs from the past two decades. Expect hits from the rise of Bruno, Slim,
On the day I rode a 125cc two-wheeler to 2,312m above sea level, the northwestern corner of Taitung County wasn’t merely beautiful. It was “renounce all worldly possessions and walk out on your family, if that means you can stay” sublime. At first light in Chihshang (池上), I rode through jacket-dampening fog. Outside the town, I escaped the morning mists, and zipped inland on an empty road. In the space of just under 6km, Provincial Highway 20A (20甲) exits Chihshang, passes farms, crosses the Sinwulu River (新武呂溪), and merges into Provincial Highway 20. The latter road is also known as the South
I sat down this week for a chat with Taiwan Internet stalwart T. H. Schee (徐子涵, @scheeinfo on Twitter). Schee’s career for the last two decades has been focused on Internet and public policy in Taiwan. At 24, in 2002, Schee became project manager at Yam.com for blogs. Since then he has been involved in the digital transformation of Taiwan, consulting for and participating on government, academic and private organizations and panels. He has built up a reputation for his work on the intersection of Internet and public policy. Schee was invited to a UN expert council in 2011 based
Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 The Hunan Braves (湖南勇) are famous for their ferocity in combat. It’s said that while defending Taiwan against the French during the 1884 Battle of Tamsui, they would rush back to the battlefield immediately after having their wounds treated. The combined forces of Qing Dynasty troops, irregular warriors like the Braves as well as local resistance fighters eventually fended off the French in a shocking victory. The Hunan Braves, who belonged to the Zhuosheng Battalion (擢勝營) under Qing Dynasty general Sun Kai-hua (孫開華), himself a native of Hunan, were no strangers to Taiwan. They first arrived in