Tuesday, 27 July 2010

War, music, chess and golf

I've an interesting combination of subjects today. But let me start by saying that finally, after several months of continually picking them up and putting them down, I've finished reading these two books. One after another, of course, not together. And I must say that I enjoyed them tremendously.

The first book, The Communist Conquest of China, by Lionel Max Chassin, written even before the start of the Cultural Revolution, is long out of print. General (retired) Chassin commanded the French Air Forces in the Far East from 1951 to 1953, and organised the French Air Defence Command in 1953. As a senior military advisor to France's prime minister, Chassin had unlimited access to normally inacessible intelligence sources. Chassin's book was a result of a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the events, actions and motives in the Civil War struggle between Mao Tse Tung's revolutionary army  and Chiang Kai Shek's nationalist forces.

Chassin made some prophetic comments at the end of the book. For example, he wrote: "When this immense agricultural country achieves an industrialisation backed by the natural resources of Manchuria and Sinkiang, it will assume a leading role not only in Asia, but in the world. And the average Chinese...is intelligent, adriot, patient, enduring, and fully capable of manipulating machines... It is true that China, for the moment, is confronted by an immense task of reconstruction. But such was the case with Russia in 1918; This precedent proves that only twenty years suffice to industrialise a great agricultural nation - and the pace of history moves ever faster. We must thus expect to see, a few years from now, the emergence of China as a very great power."

As for the second book, Waking Up In Memphis, I was getting a little tired of reading about war and history, so instead, opted to read about music and history. This is a collection of articles by Andria Lisle and Mike Evans -- Lisle lived and worked as a journalist in Memphis while Evans was a writer based in London. Together, they touched on the unique musical landscape of Memphis by talking to people, listening to the music and basically experiencing the city first-hand. I think they did a great job of conveying the real flavour and musical heritage of Memphis and bringing the experience to people like me who appreciates blues, jazz, country, folk and rock music but haven't ever stepped into the United States.

Having already finished the two books above, what should I do now? Actually, I'm torn between starting on these two titles which swing between the two extreme ends of success and failure.

Behind Deep Blue should be an absorbing account of the personal journey by Hsu Feng-Hsiung. I'm very eager to read about the Deep Blue project, from its roots at Carnegie Mellon in 1985 to its shocking defeat of Garry Kasparov in 1997. The second book, The Phantom Of The Open, should be a hilarious story by writer Scott Murray and actor Simon Farnaby that covers the story of Maurice Flitcroft who played in the British open golf championships in 1976. This is the absurd true story of the most useless pro golfer ever. But I'm sure there will be a lesson there somewhere within the pages.

So how? Which book should I start with? Oh, decisions, decisions....

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