Killing Rasputin The Murder That Ended The Russian Empire by Margarita Nelipa

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“Aristocrats viewed Rasputin as engaging and modest, traits that allowed him to mix amongst them. Despite his clothing and unusual appearance, it was his sincerity that appealed to them. His pragmatic thoughts became wisdom, which contrasted with the esoteric mysticism that pervaded high society. The problems stemmed from rumors that spoke of Rasputin’s divine gift of healing and prophesizing.   Those supposed qualities made him immensely popular.”

Those very qualities later became questionable and it wasn’t long before he was seen as vulgar, beneath the very people who first were enthralled by Rasputin. That he was a character is partially due to myths, rumors and the mysteries surrounding his life, as well as his death. I’ve always had an interest in the doomed Romanov family and the man that they welcomed into their bosom. A wandering msytic, self-proclaimed holy man, healer, or was he a dirty, ignorant peasant not fit to lick the boots of high society? It depends on which books you read, whose stories you believe. Here, Margarita Nelipa skips speculation and studies sold evidence. From his humble beginnings to befriending  Emperor Nicholas II and his family, the murder of Rasputin and the ever changing tumult history and revolution that followed, this book explores it all. Who wanted Rasputin dead? Who didn’t?

How fast his fall, media campaigns against him, exposing him as a charlatan, questioning his belief in natural remedies. Of course Rasputin was a part of a political storm, simply being a part of high society during a hot time in Russia’s history. With lies circling about Rasputin’s sexual ‘exploits’ as noted in this book, the Empress too was smeared. Gossip, however whispered, can be the downfall of many. The truth was that the young Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was better when Rasputin was near, and what mother, desperate to keep her child healthy and of this earth wouldn’t have faith in his presence?

Taking fabrications and using common sense and logic to find truth, much of what was said to damage Rasputin were impossibilities, simply for his station in life. Unfortunately Rasputin wasn’t one to challenge the falsities written about him, being a holy man. Maybe he wasn’t all the amazing, colorful, wild things he has been accused or praised (depending who you ask) of being, but he has held our fascination for over a century.

Which version is to be believed of his murder? Who masterminded the crime? What brought these conspirators together? Was Rasputin lured to his death, believing he was meeting with Nikolai II’s niece? With accounts, eye witnesses, Nelipa finds the holes and shares them with the reader. What did the British have to do with anything? Did they really believe Rasputin was an ‘evil influence’ on Russia and it’s people? As stated in the book, “Once the Russians eliminated Rasputin, they allegedly steered back onto the correct (British) course and continued fighting the war.” Who murdered him is known, but what were the triggers?

The people were turning on the emperor, as were the aristocrats, feeling the rupture between the dynasty and the Russian people could be laid at Rasputin’s peasant feet. They believed it was Rasputin that was guiding them, and he had to go. All of this is well known, but not everyone is aware of why Alexandra Fyodorovna was vastly different from other aristocrats. Already there were criticisms aimed at her, for enjoying her motherly duties, more consumed by love for her children than the social scene, surely her bond with Rasputin fed the fire. The sad diary entries shared throughout this book are nothing short of heartbreaking.

Rasputin was an outsider, many felt he weaseled his way in, bending the ear of the family in ways others of higher station never could. That in itself is enough to feed hate. It’s a fantastic gathering of material that sheds light on the life and death of Rasputin, and the influence he had on history. Sorting through the murky depths of lies and truth, it is an eye opening read. Certainly the fiction of Rasputin was far more interesting than the reality, but you cannot dispute facts. I always believed him to be a monk, a mystic, a psychic- I have heard everything, but this book lays much of it to rest. He wasn’t the depraved sex craved monster some have painted him, he was despised by the wealthy, the prominent and who can fight the powers that be when they so chose to turn on you? No one then and likely no one now. Time is a funny thing, truth has a way of crawling out of the dark tunnels of the past but not without the attention, blood, sweat and tears of writers like Margarita Nelipa. I am not an expert on Russian history but this book has changed the things I thought I knew about Rasputin.

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WildBlue Press

 

 

 

 

The Secret Life of the Mind How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman

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“So different social experiences result in completely distinct brains. A caress, a word, an image- every life experience leaves a trace in the brain. “

Interesting to think that our social lives do leave traces on our brains, changing how we react, think, feel. It all matters, even the things our brains leave out, discard. This book is full of fascinating information about our minds, that glorious brain. From earlier studies about babies and the changing science behind new studies that greatly change what we thought was true, to the beauty of bilingual upbringings and how it alters the brain, everything within this book is of importance to every human being. The studies into what is good, bad, fair and unfair really express that some things could be innate. How do newborns recognize intentions so soon? How is morality formed?

Bias is a funny beast, and none of us are without it. As we are told in this book, just look at history. What about love? How much is scientific, it is pheromones alone? Not so fast. What about our decisions? How often are our choices based on instinct, and what exactly is instinct? Is it supernatural, is it our brain working faster, always a step ahead of our body? What about our beliefs in opposition with the reality we exist in? Why do we remain steadfast in our beliefs, be they positive or negative, regardless of evidence contrary to said belief? Is it our brain?

Why do we forgot horrible pain, ‘selective forgetting’, as mothers do after childbirth? Was Freud really Working in the Dark, just what is consciousness? And while I can tickle you, why can’t I tickle myself? How does our brain take in visual stimulus? I find this sentence very loaded. “In some sense, then, dreams and schizophrenia have similarities, since they both revolve around not recognizing the authorship of our own creations.” It’s an interesting comparison. We need to understand our brain, it’s as vast and mysterious as outer space. A study on a woman after a car crash, thought to be an in vegetative state brings forth provocative questions about the bigger choices to be made. How do we know someone isn’t still ‘in there’ and just can’t communicate in the usual way? What if readings show the brain is active? What does any of it mean? How much more do we have to learn? How will this effect those thought to be in vegetative states and the future decisions to be made on their behalf?

Why is sleep necessary? Is it possible to learn while sleeping? Is sleep’s only purpose to cleanse, and repair? Interesting to think our brain is still highly active when we sleep, and that during the day, “our brain frequently unmoors from reality and creates its own thoughts. We often spend a large part of the day talking to ourselves.”  All of this much like night dreaming but we are awake! Personally, I have always wondered about lucid dreaming, often doing so myself, usually when I am about to do something wonderful and realize I am dreaming, my dream tends to fall apart from there and up, and out of sleep- I awake. Comes in handy for bad dreams though!

How do substances affect us? Are the more ‘harmless’ substances really safe for the young? Read on about the experiments into cannabis. This book is one of the most informative works I have read, and I have some questions now about this gelatinous computer I carry in my noggin. Do I have the questions? Wait, is it my BRAIN with all the questions, and can the brain respond truthfully about itself? I am talking in circles. It’s crucial to understand our bodies, and the brain appears to still be the control center so why wouldn’t you be curious?

Fascinating journey into the mind/brain… the self.

Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Little, Brown and Company

 

Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman

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“When laws are irrational, and paranoia is rampant, and ancient hatreds undergird both, life becomes a series of frustrations and humiliations, and humiliated people are either broken spiritless or, with nothing to lose, are driven to acts of violent desperation. The young people tasked with enforcing these dehumanizing laws and regulations become, too,  less human- they become callous, irrational, finding perverse pleasure in the willful exercise of power.”  

As someone that grew up in America, I can’t begin to scratch the surface of understanding the conflict between Israel and Palestine. That former Israeli soldiers break their silence, speaking up about injustices they witnessed while serving in occupied territories is nothing short of moving and of vital importance in understanding what is going on. I had to read these stories in spurts because it was too disturbing, and how lucky for me that I can remove myself, unlike the people living under occupation. The closest I have come to understanding how occupation affects people is through my own father and his family, who fled communism. What happens when you’re on the land that is occupied, simply by the happenstance of your birth and the world doesn’t listen, or if they do, doesn’t seem to be able to change much? How do we get to the point where we dehumanize each other? At the heart of all human beings, we want to build families, to see our children educated, healthy… simply to thrive, to worship as we see fit and yet, we deny others that human right.

I was shocked, nothing short of shocked and horrified by what I read. It truly is grim, and who better to give voice than those living within’ the chaos? I felt numb, but I feel it’s vital to try and listen to people, to understand, to open our eyes. What good are words if we cannot speak them, our stories are witness to all human experience, there isn’t a story in the world that doesn’t have something to teach us about ourselves, and each other. That on both sides there are people that want peace, that see the wrong and are willing to stand up for what they believe is right gives me hope for humanity as a whole. There was so much I didn’t know, and putting myself, my family in the stories of the people within,  I spent quite a few sleepless nights  wondering how do they survive? Resilience is a necessity, one even children seem to have. Children for me is always the gut punch, I had to catch my breath at times. I don’t want to dissect any of the essays in this collection, I feel people need to experience what they read in their own way. I am reeling, and wondering what is the answer? What can be done? What role does the Western World have in all of this? It’s an incredibly detailed insight into the occupation. In The End Of Reason by Eimear McBride, this really stood out to me. ‘But “I don’t need your tears” a woman in Nabi Saleh said, after I’d watched a home video of one of her relatives dying horribly, bloodily, from a tear gas canister being fired in his face. And it’s true, the emotion of well meaning outsiders like me is of no worth.” It’s something that can be applied to so much of the world, what good are tears? It won’t fix anything.  This is heavy reading, it weighs on me still though I am a fast reader, I found myself at times needing a break, luckily for someone far removed from the realities others live with I could put the reading down and tune out.  Writers that contributed to Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Colum McCann, Jacqueline Woodson, Colm Toibin, Geraldine Brooks, Dave Eggers, Hari Kunzru, Raja Shehadeh, Mario Vargas Llosa and Assaf Gavron,  editors Chabon and Waldman  

Publication Date May 30, 2017

Harper Perennial

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

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“In 2014, there were about 6,000 searches for the exact phrase “how to kill your girlfriend” and 400 murders of girlfriends.” 

 

As a chapter tells us, ALL THE WORLD’S A LAB. The data collected and shared by Seth Stephens- Davidowitz is downright disturbing at times. That there are dark sexual proclivities isn’t shocking so much as what they are, based on research. Also, who knew that your neighbor winning the lottery can have a strange impact on your own life. How odd human nature, what bizarre subjects human beings become, and subjects of research, it seems, we all are. What the heck does google searches reveal about us? A lot, actually. I spent a few chapters of this book with my moth hanging open, catching flies. Ethical questions certainly give rise to much of the research, just where is the ‘internet’ taking us all? Just who is watching, why? Well, read on my fellow test subjects. Do we think in strange ways? Naturally. I struggle with the methods of collecting data and yet, it’s true that while it can be used for nefarious purposes, just like anything else, there can be great benefits too.

How can we know what is real? How can anyone trust searches as solid fact? Data makes some of us cross eyed with boredom, but here Seth Stephens-Davidowitz presents it in a manner most people can understand and also be humored and at times shocked by. I will never think about strawberry pop tarts without thinking about hurricanes. A strange comment, but that’s what this book is all about- the bizarre data we provide, whether we realize it or not. Are we really just a bunch of liars? Do we all just masquerade online? Is the world so twisted? Just how much can you really measure to determine the future of what’s hot, what will sell, what stocks will rise and fall? How did one man predict the success of the horse American Pharoah? Who gives corporations the right to use collected data, and should they?

How do interests and fun tests measure IQ on facebook?  Just what is our doppelganger and why does it matter? And hilariously, how many of the readers finish books? What about this one? Well, I did. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Was Freud Right?” I wonder, were he alive today, how much of his theories would stand up to actual research. The Banana dream data is food for thought and yes I’m trying to be punny here, I wonder what that means about me, according to research.

The information isn’t overbearing, and most of it is fascinating. Statistically, you may well finish this book too.

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

Dey Street Books

The Cyber Effect A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken

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“There are risks that reward us and risks that ruin us.”

I found myself thinking about Cyberspace as a world unto itself. Rich with information and communication, more and more impossible to avoid we step into it as through a doorway, or a rabbit hole.  I admit, the depravity is disturbing and this book had me thinking about things I never even imagined about the internet. It is another world, it isn’t crazy to think of it as an alternate universe, because it is. The addictions, the abuse, the hackers, criminals- sometimes being in cyberspace is a disappearing act. As with all things, there is good and bad but the balance may be off here. Lack of inhibition, pushing further than you would have otherwise gone in exploration of the forbidden is shocking! As adults, we think we’re safe but the issue is, are we safe from ourselves? When Mary Aiken brings children in cyberspace into the conversation, it changes everything you thought you knew.

This isn’t a book trying to scare you out of cyberspace, because as times change we are growing far more dependent on it, even for simple things such bill paying, education, you name it. We certainly are far more connected than ever, and that isn’t all negative. Never before could we instantly communicate with loved ones so far away or travel with the tap of a finger to the far corners of the world. News can ‘inform us’ but who better to tell it then the people there, experiencing and showing the truth through our devices? We’ve broadened our horizons, we’re learning to open our eyes to the rest of the world, to people different from us. There is nothing we can’t look up or search for, no question too big to find answers too.  It’s not all predators, it’s not all sorcery and madness- but there are limits we should be setting, questions we need to be asking. There are dark things lying in wait too, some corners better left locked behind cells. We are manipulated in cyberspace just as we are in the walking day. It’s far more lawless than the solid world.  I took more horror away with the effect it is having on children. Heartbreaking is the need for attention children are going without as so many parents have their noses buried in screens. Far more horrifying is the child predators and human trafficking. This is a must read for everyone, because even if you somehow are off the grid, off the internet- the rest of us are floating in the cyber-world.

Very provocative, and I think there will be a lot of conversation about the issues brought forth. I am appalled there were so many things I hadn’t even considered, because some are obvious. Any world where monsters can roam free isn’t safe for any of us, it is a utopia for the corrupt, and as cyberspace continues to expand, we need safety measures. But how?

Random House Publishing Group- Random House
Spiegel and Grau

Publication Date: August 23 2016

The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards

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“Six people left in the world and one of them is Bill ******* Murray”, I just kept thinking about the scene in Zombieland with Murray and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). There is just something about Bill Murray that seeps through every character he plays, you want to laugh with him, even if he is laughing at you. Fan or not, this book of stories about him is delightful. “Even when he’s engaged in everyday activities, Bill seems suffused with mischief,…” I think there is certainly mischief there, and a bit of mystery. He plays a jerk beautifully, a reminder of the guy in class who could be a smart ass with whiplash inducing ease, the one you wanted to hate but secretly maybe crushed on or wanted to be. The moments he has with fans, strangers, co-stars certainly shows someone that likes to throw you off, even just to get a reaction out of you. Not all actors have an overflow of charisma, it’s the same for the average man- some people just have an extra spark- he is one of them. This book is not all laughs, there are relationships that soured, the story of him hiring a deaf woman… well, I have to admit it’s childish but clever too. For some of us, he’d probably be too much to handle- not everyone is the ‘invite yourself to the party’ sort but it’s marvelous on screen. The stories are contrary though as well, he seems to not want people to take themselves so seriously, and yet he himself can be difficult and serious. I am not sure what exactly I like about him having to be chased down for roles in movies, but it seems fitting. Acting aside, if stories and encounters can explain who the man is then these speak of a man who is witty, funny, a bit of a mystery, charming but more in how he draws attention to silliness, and maybe someone not easily defined. We never really intimately know celebrities, sometimes we barely know those closest to us, but through stories you can catch a glimpse of the way Bill Murray the man lives. There is just something infectious about him. I’ve been watching his films since I was a kid, and have a few personal favorites. Even at a young age I found him attractive, but couldn’t pin what it was until I got older. It is in the twinkle in his eyes, that he can have fun anywhere and he is enjoying something you just haven’t noticed, that he is having the time of his life and you should invite yourself in.
Fun read.

Random House Publishing Group- Random House

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

Stephen King and Philosophy by Jacob M. Held (Editor)

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I don’t know anyone who hasn’t a clue who Stephen King is. If they haven’t read any of his work, certainly they have seen something. This is dissecting his work, but nothing macabre about it. While I confess to being disturbed by his horror stories it’s a strangely fulfilling panic. Carrie is so much more than a misfit who takes her revenge as much as every story King has written holds more meaning than simply to frighten or thrill us. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a short story that lodged in my throat, thick with emotion. It’s proof that while he is the master of horror, he can create beautiful stories about human beings too. His characters can be low lives or weirdos but never just that. To think of his work as fast food for readers doesn’t ring true and in Stephen King and Philosophy there is evidence why his writing is full of meaning. Fan or not, it is an interesting read. I found myself thinking about what he is telling the reader, intentionally or not. Naturally, we all read a different story when handed the same book. Our own life experiences, where we are in life, everything merges with our reading so no one has the same exact perception nor emotions. I think the same can be said of writing. Our stories take on lives of their own, sometimes authors (just like artists) may even unintentionally be saying something they hadn’t set out to say. It sneaks it’s way out through the pen and when it’s pointed out they think ‘hmmm, I am saying something here.”
I particularly enjoyed reading Held’s thoughts on Carrie and it’s rich symbolism of coming into womanhood. I also thought about the male friendships in the stories The Body (which Lean On Me was based on) and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. I remember feeling so many different emotions because of The Body. How is it he can write about boys looking for a dead boy (which is in itself horrifying) and yet conjure this emotional journey where they are free to express their feelings (something certainly not encouraged in those days)? Held has done a much better job of exploring the meaning and depths of King’s work and I spent time pondering things I never considered, somehow neglected to absorb. This book is incredibly engaging and I can’t wait to read reviews by die hard King fans.

Rowan and Littlefiled

Publication Date: August 15, 2016