[Book Review] The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Rating: ★★★★★(4.5)

Wall Street is probably best known for the movie quote “Greed is good.”

But after reading The Big Short, Michael Lewis’ excellent book about the lead up to the 2008 global financial crisis and the small group of people who saw the collapse coming and bet against it, I think Wall Street needs a new saying: “Y’all are a bunch of greedy assholes.”

Lewis has a talent for making his readers feel smart. Taking in his best works, you’re granted kinship with the elite. Like a trader at Salomon Brothers, you might laugh at the chumps in the bond market; or like the money-constrained boss of the Oakland A’s, you might cobble together a winning line-up by way of statistics; or like a genius of modern day football, you would recognize the importance of a great left tackle in protecting your quarterback’s blind side. Now, with The Big Short, you will have no doubt foreseen the folly of investing in subprime mortgages with their impending defaults. He does this in a very readable way, too. The characters are all interesting – often genuinely quirky. And his vantage point as a quasi-insider signifies the straight scoop. Whatever the topic, he explains its subtleties well enough that you can paraphrase it to impress friends over cocktails.

Our man Lewis was clever to focus on the winners of the bet. As he explained in an interview, those were the ones who were willing to talk to him. They saw what became obvious in hindsight: that many of the loans backing mortgage securities were originated with very low standards applied (by firms who didn’t have to eat their own cooking), were issued with teaser rates that would soon adjust up, and were likely to default as soon as the air started coming out of the big housing balloon. For reasons Lewis explains well, the bet against the bubble was not so apparent to many. These securities were hidden in tranches of complicated mortgage-backed securities with obscure features that made it harder to do proper due diligence. They were also rated too high by Moody’s and S&P for the default potential they contained (partly because the agencies were easily duped by the Goldmans of the world who were paying their fees and wanted AAA assets to vend). Plus, there was little to go on from past default data because such high levels of credit unworthiness had never before been experienced. Modeling assumptions were poor, too. For instance, it was thought that diversification across regions would reduce risks. The widespread downturn in housing showed otherwise, of course. Default correlations were high. It hurt the cause, too, when some of the strongest personalities in the business, like Cassano at AIG and Hubler at Morgan Stanley, were also some of the wrongest.

The misdeeds on Wall Street were spotlighted well. I couldn’t help feeling, though, especially at the end, that Lewis had overstated his case. There were times when he claimed the investment banks were stupid for not knowing the true value of these assets and at the same time duplicitous in passing them off to customers. You can’t have it both ways, at least not in that case. I was also hoping that he would weigh in on some of the other factors that contributed to the crash, such as the role of government with its CRA program and the poor oversight of its sponsored enterprises, toxic waste-makers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Other points Lewis made against the investment banks were more deserving, I thought, among them, the fact that they are no longer partnerships (where any losses would truly hit home), but rather corporations with limited liability. Agency theory in economics points to the problem of employees receiving a much bigger share of the upside (with bonus structures as they are), and a lot less of any downside. Riskier strategies result. That doesn’t explain everything, though. Several of the notable blow-ups included principal architects who were also major shareholders. For instance, Richard Fuld lost over half a billion in share value when Lehman went under.

The other thing I thought was noteworthy about Lewis’s critique was something he alluded to in the introduction. He said when he wrote Liar’s Poker that he intended for it to be a finger-wagging at the industry’s bad behavior. Many read it instead as a how-to manual. This disconcerted him, and it was apparent that he went to greater lengths this time to dwell on the negatives. That said, might we still get the sense that he wants it both ways? His descriptions are alluring, the language of the cognoscenti is enticing, the personalities are bigger than life, and the market savvy that decides who wins the pot is celebrated. Wittingly or not, there’s an extent to which he glamorizes. I’ll take him at his word that he doesn’t want to see bright young people flocking to Wall Street anymore, but it seems there’s a small, slightly disingenuous part of him that still finds it all pretty fascinating.

In summary: strongly recommended as a guidebook on the crisis, very entertaining, but maybe not the one-stop shopping it might have been for assigning all warranted blame.

P.S: The movie is quite decent as well.

 

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[Book Review]Game of Thrones

I’m very slow in catching trends and now I started to read the series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. And as you know, it’s a big commitment to read this series. All the pages of the five books are more than 4000 pages and George RR Martin hasn’t finished the series yet(hope the 6th book comes out soon!)

Comment

Although I already know some stories roughly beforehand(I heard too many spoilers) , it was quite interesting to read and this book has some unique characteristics that separates from other fantasy novels(e.g Lord of the Rings,Harry Potter) . As many of you have already seen in the drama;good characters are not always make it to the end(think about Eddard Stark) and nice-personality characters have some flaws, not epitome of all the good-ness in some fantasy novels(e.g. Aragon in Lord of the Rings).  I think those characteristics make this book more realistic and approachable. The characters are more like Greek Mythology  gods. We know that everyone is not perfect. Plus, if you are fascinated by medieval English history, you will be able to find a lot of resemblances and GRRM did a great job in incorporating historical facts into this story.

The book isn’t without its flaws, of course. Although different characters narrate different chapters, there is absolutely no change in tone from character to character, to the point where the eight-year-old thinks, acts, and talks exactly like the forty-year-olds in the book. Certain characters are absent for much too long, resulting in implausible leaps from Mindset A to Mindset Z (Daenerys goes from “I don’t want to marry Khal Drogo and I don’t want to be queen of anything!” to calling Drogo “my sun-and-stars” and planning how she’s going to take back her family’s throne in the space of two chapters, with nothing in between to explain how she got to that point), and certain characters who should have had chapters devoted to their particular mindset are absent from the book (what I wouldn’t give to have read a chapter written from Cersei’s perspective).

But those are minor quibbles. This is a good fantasy book, because it subverts so many familiar fantasy tropes. Tropes like the idea of good guys and bad guys, and nothing in between. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings, where the good guys are noble and awesome and handsome and will win the big final battle and the bad guys are literally pure evil and ugly and will suffer for their foolish attempts at conquest. Martin was strongly influenced by the Wars of the Roses, and the similarities are clear: there’s no single good guy who deserves to have the throne over everyone else; instead we have several powerful families, all of them varying degrees of evil, fighting and clawing over what is, at the end of the day, just a stupid crown. The guy who won the crown from the original ruler, King Robert, is our typical fantasy hero, but he finds that after fifteen years of ruling, actually running a kingdom is a lot less fun that fighting for one. And that’s the way things go: it’s easy to depose the crazy despot, but what happens when you take his place and have to start thinking about taxes and actually governing this country that you fought so hard for? It sucks, that’s what happens.

At the end of this book, I was amazed by the world created in GRRM’s brain. He must have lived in that world at the same time mentally in order to describe and make the story in elaborate way. Now I’m turning the first page of A Clash of Kings.

 

 

[Book Review] Cosmos by Carl Sagan

I have heard the reputation of this book since I was young but I was not dare to approach this book since I often feel science is convoluted and abstract to me(I’m a math person but not science). But once I watched the documentary version narrated by Carl Sagan, I was immediately hooked and finally grabbed the book.

My initial thought of this book before I started to read was it would be full of scientific knowledge and explanations but this book is much beyond that. Unlike didactic science scholars, Carl Sagan put his best effort to make astronomy approachable to the public. He has managed to put into simple words concepts that have scared away so many people for so long. In this book, Sagan encompasses the whole of human existence and the universe, with a focus on science.

For example, he also discussed:

– evolution,
– Kepler, astrology and acceptance of truth in spite of what outcome is desired,
– Venus and Mars, including the made-up belief of life on Mars a century ago,
– the Voyager spacecrafts’ Grand Tour of the Outer Planets (a rare alignment),
– ancient Greek scientists,
– Relativity,
– atoms, elements, and how star make them,
– Creation Myths, incl Hindu ones that are longer than the current discovered age of the Universe,
– genes, DNA, the brain, and books: the progression of how and how much information we can store and access,
– SETI, and Jean-François Champollion’s translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs,
– the Library of Alexandria.

So, even for people who don’t love science that much, they would find some parts of the books interesting and marveled how interconnected the science and those different aspects are(e.g. myth).

Plot

After giving us a general idea of our ‘cosmic address’, Sagan moves on to Darwin and his discovery of Natural Selection as the engine of Evolution. This has to be one of the finest explanations of Darwinian Natural Selection, where Sagan uses the extra-ordinary example Heike crabs, to demonstrate the strange but beautiful ways in which ‘survival of the fittest’ is manifested. But he doesn’t keep us here for long. After giving the best possible ‘lecture’ on Evolution, he takes us further to see the harmony of the worlds. the planets and how the stars follow fixed patterns that can be mathematically explained; a most singular achievement of humans to have discovered the language of the Nature. Kepler gave us the laws of planetary motion. Laws that not just explained the elliptical orbit of Earth, but inspired a generation of mathematicians and physicists to inquire further into the nature and behavior of the heavenly bodies.

As the book progresses, Sagan’s obsession with extra-terrestrial life becomes more and more apparent. He admits that as a child, he spent hours contemplating about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. Although our search for intelligent life has been a failure (even on Earth), Sagan aspires to make contact with the dwellers of distant worlds. The possibility of life elsewhere, is not too ‘fantastic’ altogether. As we observe the immensity of the observable universe, we can be more than certain that life does exist elsewhere but we don’t know what it will be like. Space travel and Alien Contact are not stuff of science fiction anymore but a possibility in waiting.

The concluding chapters touch on two matters of colossal significance, namely Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change. These two man-made disasters are a ticking time bomb that can obliterate our species, and we have done precious little to stop them. We are destroying this planet, poisoning our oceans and destroying Specie after specie for centuries now. Man is without a doubt the most deadly predator in the history of Earth Life. And now we are on the path to self-annihilation.

Comment

After reading the last chapter blaming selfish and greedy humans, his book is a wakeup call. A world ridden with ignorance and greed, will need to forego the idiotic bliss of being certain about everything. We don’t need good answers to everything, what we need instead are good questions. A good question is often times more educating than its answer. How can we love this world if we are awaiting an apocalypse, how can we love our environment and its safe keepers, the plants and the animals, without recognizing that they are our distant cousins. Life, wherever it exists on this planet, is our kin. And we are bullying, butchering and asphyxiating it everywhere. What a shame !

This book was published for the first time in 1980 and we are still enjoying his book. The messages from his book still penetrate greedy and egocentric human beings. It is sad that humans have not improved in this perspective that much since 1980. What would Carl Sagan say about this current world if he is still alive?

Because Carl Sagan does more than just educate you about the wonders of Science and the Universe; he makes you fall in love with it.

 

[Book Review] Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Rating: ★★★★

Yuval Noah Harari wrote ‘Homo Sapiens‘ and he asked this fundamental question at the end of the book: “With going through technology development, do we become happier? How will and should people live in the future?”. This new book by Harari is attempting to answer this question and depict the future after scientific revolution.  Harari takes us, with this continuation to his blockbuster book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, from the past to the future. This book shares a lot of the same limitations of the previous book. But because “speculation” is inherent in writing about the future, Harari’s jumps are easier to forgive when talking about tomorrow than when talking about today. His speculation surely provokes readers to think more profoundly about society today.

In Homo Deus, Harari holds that now that humanity has all but solved the mammoth problems plaguing it before the 21st century – disease, famine, and violence – it will turn to a new agenda, namely attaining happiness, immortality, and divinity. The author writes about our potential future in terms of our recent and ancient past. He explains how humans distinguished themselves from the animal world and came to recognize the human experience and economic growth as the ultimate powers of the recent centuries. Harari then turns to look at where the unstoppable tide of technology and progress may take us in a few decades –whether intelligent algorithms and a genetically upgraded superhuman elite may make ordinary humans obsolete.

Harari did a great job in describing formula for knowledge in different eras. In medieval time, the formula for knowledge is Scriptures × Logic. In Scientific Revolution era, Knowledge = Empirical Data × Mathematics. Using this formula in the scientific revolution, Harari predicted that “Dataism” will be a new religion in the book. . Dataism advances the first truly new value in nearly 200 years; the value of freedom of information. Dataism is firmly entrenched in its two mother disciplines, computer science and biology. Organisms are seen by scientists as data-processing systems. The stock market is the most powerful of all data processing systems, and centralized government is one of the worst. Capitalism defeated Communism during the Cold War, not because it is more ethical or because individual liberties are sacred, but because in times of rapid technological change, distributed processing systems work better than centralized systems.

However, humanism offered an alternative. As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences × Sensitivity.  Humanists rely on feelings to make important decisions, and these feelings evolved over millions of years. But often our feelings are just irrational and wrong. Computer algorithms can surpass feelings in making good decisions. So, the humanist recommendation to “get in touch with your feelings” may not he given in the future. Perhaps, meaning in life will not lie in our experiences, until they are shared with others, through social media. And, these social media will analyze our experiences, and be able to give expert advice on important decisions. Harari gives some pretty good evidence that this trend may come to pass.

 Overall, it is Harari’s style which is the most engaging. I rushed though this book because even the most complex issues are dealt with in accessible language and an approachable tone. It’s fun and despite the subject matter, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It felt like the starting point of a conversation, somewhat controversial of course, but isn’t that the best way to get a debate going?I highly recommend it to all open-minded people who are not afraid to think a bit differently about the meaning of life, about our political structures, and the future.

 

 

 

[Book Review] One Hundread Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Rating:★★★★★

From my observation on Goodreads or other book page, this book has one of the most polarizing readers: the one who really hates this book, the other who really loves this book. I bought this book in a second hand book store quite a while ago but this was somehow intimidating to start reading. One day, I was spacing out while watching my books in the shelves. This book caught my eyes with all the green color and reminded me that I hardly touched this book.

‘Ok, Challenge accepted. Not sure if I can make it till the end of this book but I can try.”

After reading a few pages, I thought ‘oh gosh, it’s series of nonsense, ridiculous things’ . But some parts of me pressured me to keep reading this and eventually I ended up really like it weirdly although I was really struggling with names that I had to take a side trip to look at the genealogy of Buendia family.

I can literally feel new wrinkles spreading across the surface of my brain when I read this book by Marquez.. After reading three chapters, it starts making sense and that’s when you realize you’re probably crazy, too. And you are. We all are.

Plot and Comment

The story follows 100 years in the life of Macondo, a village founded by José Arcadio Buendía and occupied by descendants all sporting variations on their progenitor’s name: his sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano, and grandsons, Aureliano José, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Then there are the women–the two Úrsulas, a handful of Remedios, Fernanda, and Pilar–who struggle to remain grounded even as their menfolk build castles in the air.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia in 1927. Influenced by his grandmother’s vivid story telling, Marquez decided at an early age that he wanted to be a writer. Upon completion of la Universidad de Cartagena, Marquez began his career as a reporter and soon began to write short stories. His earliest stories were published as early as the 1950s, yet in 1964 while living in Mexico City with his young family, he completed Solitude in a mere eighteen months. Finally published for the first time in 1967, Solitude sold millions of copies, establishing Marquez as a world renown writer, leading to his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1982.

Throughout the novel and the century of change to Macondo, all the Jose Arcadios were solitary individuals and inventors. Determined to decipher the gypsies secret to the universe, they holed themselves up in an alchemist’s lab, rarely seen by the outside world. The Aurelianos, on the other hand, were leaders of revolution. Colonel Aureliano Buendia started thirty two civil wars yet lost all of them. A relic who fathered seventeen sons of the same name and grew to become Macondo’s most respected citizen, his spirit of adventure and discovery repeated itself in the descendants who bore his name.

Women held the family together. First Ursula who lived to be 122 years old and then her daughter Amaranta, the women expanded the family home and raised successive generations so that new Jose Arcadios and Aurelianos would not repeat the mistakes of their namesakes. Yet the same mistakes and characteristics occur: rejected love, spirit of adventure, lone soles willing to live for one hundred years in solitary confinement. Additionally, the two characters who predicted all the events of the novel were not even members of the Buendia family: Pilar Ternera, a card reader who specialized in fates and could look at a Buendia to know his future; and Melquiades, a gypsy who befriended the original Jose Arcadio, leading all the successive generations to a life of solitude.

At first Marquez equates solitude with death. Later on he includes individuals happy to live out their days alone. In order to make a point of his examples of solitude, he interjects countless examples of magical realism: a man bleeding to death down a street, yellow butterflies announcing a man’s presence, a rain of epic proportions that would not end. With these and other countless examples throughout the text, Marquez created a magical realism genre that is still widely in use by Latino writers and others around the world today.

While used to the magical realism genre, Marquez usage and prose were a treat for me to read. Between the prose and magical realism and a memorable story for the ages, One Hundred Years of Solitude is an epic, genre changing, extraordinary novel. Authors of the last fifty years can credit Marquez’ influence in their own work. I feel privileged to have finally read this saga deserving of its numerous awards and top ratings that eventually lead Marquez to earn a Nobel Prize. One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel for the ages, meriting 5 wonderful stars.

[Book Review] For One More Day by Mitch Albom

Rating: ★★★★

I am usually kind of a person who goes with classic literature for reading fiction. Classic literatures,such as Anna Karerina ,Demian and Les Miserables, tend to give deeper and more philosophical messages or questions about human life (yeah, especially Dostoyevski’s books are big challenges to my brain that I mostly give up at the middle).  But it does not mean that you should  disdain reading simpler or more modern books.  Sometimes reading simple books can be a nice breeze from complex classic literatures. In this sense, ‘For One More Day‘ was a great choice(special thanks to my mentor in my company for lending this book to me :)).

While it has quite a simple storyline, it motivated me to think about my past relationship with my parents which is a very important aspect for many people.  Mitch Albom certainly has a talent of delivering fundamental lessons in a simple and understandable way. Although some people might find his books are clichés, some of his books have been loved by many readers around the world.

Plot

For One More Day is the story of a mother and a son, and a relationship that covers a lifetime and beyond. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?

As a child, Charley “Chick” Benetto was told by his father, “You can be a mama’s boy or a daddy’s boy, but you can’t be both.” So he chooses his father, only to see the man disappear by divorce with his mother when Charley is on the verge of adolescence.
Decades later, Charley is a broken man. His life has been crumbled by alcohol and regret. He loses his job. He leaves his family. He hits bottom after discovering his only daughter has shut him out of her wedding. And he decides to take his own life.
He makes a midnight ride to his small hometown, with plans to do himself in. But upon failing even to do that, he staggers back to his old house, only to make an astonishing discovery. His mother, who died eight years earlier, is still living there, and welcomes him home as if nothing ever happened..

What follows is the one “ordinary” day so many of us yearn for, a chance to make good with a lost parent, to explain the family secrets, and to seek forgiveness. Somewhere between this life and the next, Charley learns the astonishing things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices. And he tries, with her tender guidance, to put the crumbled pieces of his life back together.

Comment

There are many in this world who would do anything to get just that one chance to make amends for their past misgivings. Yet very few get this golden opportunity while the majority is saddled with that nostalgic remorse and regret.

“For one more day” takes one through a wistful journey which encounters a strange and enigmatic tryst with the ghost of the past. The story unfolds the main character Charley Benetto (Chick) whose life is in ruins. Being unwanted at his own daughter’ wedding was the last straw of having lost everything and he is ready to give up his life. As he takes a midnight ride to his hometown, he encounters his dead mother much to his amazement and everything seemed as normal as ever.

Instances from his life are brought to light with a quick flashback through the book. Being with his mother for that one day makes him realize the lack of time he spent with her and how out of touch he had been with her. Yet she had managed to retain that special place in his heart and the close call was what brought her to him and his encounter with the other world. As this journey nears an end, his surprise knows no bounds as he unravels several loopholes and a shocking truth in the end. He also gets the second chance to convey his unexpressed explanation for a certain act of his, which to his surprise was known to her all long.

This book is intriguing and emphasizes beautifully on a mother-son relationship. It makes one reflective and also makes ones eyes go moist and choke with emotion. The few words quoted in the book as the character’s father tells him “mama’s boy or daddy’s boy chick? What’s it gonna be?” As he recalls this statement in the end, he is made to realize by his mother that “a child should never have to choose.”

Many may dispute this as being just another ghost story. Yet there are times that we draw parallels and examples from our lost loved ones that make it seem as though they were never gone. They retain their omnipresence in our memories. There are some individuals to whom we postpone our visits; taking them for granted only to realize that one fine day they are no longer there. And then we grieve at our actions for having said something that had hurt them or not having spent quality time with them when they were alive. This thought continues to haunt us till eternity.

This book teaches one to never take anything or anyone for granted. Life’s uncertainty is such that we may never get another chance. So why not take the one life hands out and utilize it to the maximum as the saying goes,” If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” One should ensure this ‘lemonade’ remains sweet instead of letting it turn sour.

After finishing this book, I called up to my parents right away  🙂

[Book Review]Anna Karenina

Rating: ★★★★★

In the beginning, reading Anna Karenina can feel a little like visiting Paris for the first time. You’ve heard a lot about the place before you go. Much of what you see from the bus you recognize from pictures and movies and books. You can’t help but think of the great writers and artists who have been here before you. You expect to like it. You want to like it. But you don’t want to feel like you have to like it. You worry a little that you won’t. But after a few days, you settle in, and you feel the immensity of the place opening up all around you. You keep having this experience of turning a corner and finding something beautiful that you hadn’t been told to expect or catching sight of something familiar from a surprising angle. You start to trust the abundance of the place, and your anxieties that someone else will have eaten everything up before your arrival relax. (Maybe that simile reveals more about me than I’d like.)

Plot

The novel begins as Anna Karenina arrives in Moscow from Petersburg to help her brother and sister-in-law settle a domestic dispute. Members of Russia’s privileged class, “Dolly” Alexandrovna discovers that her husband “Stiva” Oblonsky has engaged in an affair with one of their maids. Affairs being a long unspoken of part of upper class life, Dolly desires to leave her husband along with their five children. Anna pleads with Dolly to reconcile, and the couple live a long, if not tenuous, marriage, overlooking each other’s glaring faults. While settling her brother’s marriage, Anna is reminded of her own unhappy marriage, setting the stage for a drama that lasts the duration of the novel.

Tolstoy sets the novel in eight parts and short chapters with three main story lines, allowing for his readers to move quickly through the plot. In addition to Stiva and Dolly, Tolstoy introduces in part one Dolly’s sister Kitty Shcherbatsky, a young woman of marriageable age who is forced to choose between Count Vronsky and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin. At a ball in Kitty’s honor, Vronsky is smitten with Anna, temporarily breaking Kitty’s heart. Even though Levin loves Kitty with his whole heart, Kitty refuses his offer in favor of Vronsky, and falls into a deep depression. Levin, seeing the one love of his life reject him, vows to never marry.

Anna becomes a fallen woman and rejects her husband in favor of Vronsky, fathering his child, leaving behind the son she loves. Even those closest to her, including family members, are appalled. Yet, Anna does not value her loved ones’ advice and chooses to live with Vronsky. Despite a comfortable, upper class life, Anna is in constant internal turmoil. Spurned by a society that clings to its institutions as marriage and the church, Anna chooses love yet isolation from all but Vronsky and their daughter. Her ex-husband is viewed as a strict adherent to the law, cold, and unsympathetic, and will not grant a divorce. Anna’s frustration and anxiety grew every day doubting Vronsky would have an affair with other ladies.

Comment

 

When it comes to talking about Anna Karerina, some people would ask “isn’t it Tolstoy novel about an aristocrat lady having an affair?” as if the book is more or less than a soap opera or chick lit in late 19th century. Well, it is universal that affair stories add some spices on storylines. Actually, the story between Anna and Vronsky(the affair partner of Anna Karerina) is more fractional than you would think.

There are three principle couples: Stiva and Dolly, Vronsky and Anna, and Levin and Kitty. Of course, the most widely known among them is Vronsky and Anna but we also need to pay attention to the two other couples. In fact, Tolstoy depicted Levin and Kitty is the most ideal couple and Levin himself is what Tolstoy thought of an ideal man should be. My favorite discovery was the three or four chapters devoted to, of all things, scythe mowing by Levin—chapters that become a celebratory meditation on physical labor. When I read those chapters, I felt temporarily cured of the need to have something “happen” and became as absorbed in the reading as the mowers are absorbed in their work.

 The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.

It’s not just lawn mowing that Tolstoy would like to describe but also Tolstoy shows that one needs to involve into the action regardless of the class. It’s the moment that Levin grows to be more mature human being and Kitty started to admire him. Levin and Kitty is  developing their relationship in more mature way while the relationship between Anna and Vronsky ended tragically and the relationship between Stiva and Dolly ended up being stagnant.

His characters are unbelievably complex. The edition of this book that I read was over 900 pages, so he has some time to do it. His characters aren’t static, but neither are they in some kind of transition from A to B throughout the book. They are each inconsistent in strikingly real ways. They think things and then change their minds. They believe something and then lose faith in it. Their opinions of each other are always swirling. They attempt to act in ways that align with something they want, but they must revert back to who they are. But who a character is is a function of many things, some innate and some external and some whimsical and moody.

So all the characters seem too complex to be characters in a book. It’s as if no one could write a character that could be so contradictory and incoherent and still make them believable, so no one would try to write a character like Anna Karenina. But people are that complex, and they are incoherent and that’s what makes Tolstoy’s characters so real. Their understandings of each other and themselves are as incoherent as mine of those around me and myself.

One of the ways that Tolstoy achieves this is through incredible detail to non-verbal communication. He is always describing the characters movements, expressions, or postures in such a way that you subtly learn their thoughts.

He does an amazing job in the internal monologues the characters experience. You frequently hear a character reason with himself and reveal his thoughts or who he is to you in some way, and all the while you feel like you already knew that they felt that or were that. Even as the characters are inconsistent. There are times when he can describe actions that have major implications on the plot with blunt and simple words and it still felt rich because the characters are so full.

The book takes on love, marriage, adultery, faith, selfishness, death, desire/attraction, happiness. It also speaks interestingly on social classes or classism. He also addresses the clash between the pursuit of individual desires and social obligations/restraints. There is just so much to wrestle with here.

And you go through a myriad set of emotions and impressions of the characters as you read. At times you can love or hate or adore a character. You can be ashamed of or ashamed for or reviled by or anxious with or surprised by a character. And you feel this way about each of them at points. But it isn’t at all a roller coaster ride of emotion. It’s fluid and natural and makes sense.