Bench Press

Reading our books is like pumping iron, but for your brain

The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the greatest and most ruthless thinkers of his time, shares with readers his classic how-to guide of sorts. Originally titled The Prince: 26 Easy Steps to Successfully Ruling Italy with an Iron Fist (shortened to simply The Prince sometime in the early 17th century) this instructional compilation of essays on human nature and how best to rule them is full of insight into what Machiavelli saw as the perfect man, more specifically, the perfect ruler. A good Prince should rise up from the people, should be believed in by the people, instead of inheriting control over the people. A good Prince should know who his friends are, and who his enemies are (SPOILER ALERT: He has no friends, only future enemies). A good Prince knows that the only way to deal with an insult is to repay it in full. A good Prince knows that enemies are not defeated, they are crushed, lest they become vengeful enemies later on down the road. Do you agree with him? There’s only one way to find out, read The Prince today! “Great for quoting at people during parties so they know you’re an intellectual.” – Connor Kelly “I especially liked his advice about killing not only your enemies, but also their entire families. I haven’t lost a game of RISK yet, after reading The Prince.” – Connor Kelly “People ask me, would you rather be feared or loved, um easy, I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott
Red Harvest Looking for a book with a tough talking, overweight detective who can barely hold his own in a fistfight? Look no further than Red Harvest! Set in the fictional town of Personville (or “Poisonville” as some of the locals call it), this hard-boiled detective book will keep you on the edge of your seat as it questions your very ideals as Americans. Follow the nameless Continental Op through his many mishaps in a town ravaged by the most brutal mistress there is: unchecked capitalism. Blood and bullets are littered throughout this book, as are a fair amount of characters that worship the only god that matters, money. Exploring moral issues like the importance of being good at one’s job vs. being good in general, or the actual value of money versus ethics, Red Harvest will make you think about and evaluate things that may slip into the back of your mind, out of the way, normally. Even without the intellectual fodder that Red Harvest provides, it still has a gripping story about one man’s dedication to wiping out the corruption of a town now bloated with poison. All of those anti-capitalist themes sound like a bunch of Commie-speak? Maybe it is, but you’ll have to read it yourself to decide.
The Empathy Exams What exactly is empathy? Is it the same thing as sympathy? They certainly sound similar, but who knows if that means that they have the same meaning? If they mean the same thing, then why would there be two different words to say the same thing? Of course, there are other examples of different words meaning the same thing, like happy, joyous, jubilant, glad, and many others, so it is still possible that sympathy and empathy mean the same thing, right? According to Leslie Jamison, the above is exactly what empathy actually means: a willingness to ask questions in an effort to learn. In The Empathy Exams, author Jamison explores exactly what empathy is, and why it is important not only in doctors, but in everybody so we can all console each other. Blending together an incredibly personal story with a (literally) textbook impersonal story, Jamison explains why humans, deep down, need to be understood by each other, especially during times of need. She effortlessly switches between evaluating nameless doctors and her own boyfriend on their empathetic abilities. Looking to question your interactions with other humans on a fundamental level? Pick up The Empathy Exams to find out if you pass the test!
The Yellow Birds How can you tell an injured soldier on the street? It’s easy isn’t it? Look for the one with a limp, or an eye patch, or a prosthetic limb, or even a wheelchair right? However, the damage done to humans is not always skin deep. In The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers writes about the heavy damage that soldiers take both overseas, and at home after returning from war. Like the religious figure St. Sebastian, they suffer sever wounds, both mental and physical, but are expected not to let their pain show through to the outside. Such is the nature of sending soldiers abroad to defend our interests, they are supposed to take all of the pain and suffering for the rest of us; they sacrifice everything so we do not have to sacrifice anything. This is shown in one of the many allusions to birds seen in the book, a comparison of the soldiers to canaries. Just like canaries, the soldiers are sent into dangerous situations, often times losing their lives, to ensure the safety of the miners, or in our case, the regular civilians. Interested in the psychology of soldiers both at war and returning home? Pick up The Yellow Birds today.
Cat's Cradle Some say the world will end in fire, and some say ice. Kurt Vonnegut says both. In Cat’s Cradle, two different ends of the world are offered; the first is the detonation of the atomic bomb, and the second is the actual end of the world via all the water on Earth being frozen simultaneously. Follow the main character John as he travels across America in search of information on one of the pivotal scientists of the Manhattan Project: Dr. Felix Hoenikker. Along the way, he meets the different children of Dr. Hoenikker: a friendly little person, a rather plain woman, and a model train enthusiast. His trip takes him all the way to a small island country called San Lorenzo, where he learns about the religion Bokonon. Bokononism provides the context for much of the story, as its many calypsos deal with the lunacies of mankind. Through the wonders of Bokononism, John encounters things like making love by touching feet together and classifying everyone he sees as either part of his “karass,” a divinely determined group of people meant to go through the motions of life together, or not, plus he puts vaguely religious spins on most of the events of the books. He even goes so far as to call himself Jonah at the beginning of the book, suggesting that God is sending him, like the biblical Jonah, from place to place. If you are looking for a darkly funny and cynical view on human nature, Cat’s Cradle is the book for you.
Snowcrash Technology has become a massive part of society today, but it has not always been so. Back in the Dark Ages, in the year 1990, Neal Stephenson released his science fiction novel Snow Crash. Filled to the brim with wacky and interesting characters, it focuses on the Deliverator, a samurai sword-wielding pizza delivery guy. In addition to swinging katanas around, Hiro (the Deliverator’s real name is Hiro Protagonist) is also a computer hacker. This guy is the 90s version of cool tied up in a leather-jacketed package. Being a hacker, Hiro knows his way around a computer, as well as the Metaverse, Stephenson’s prediction of the Internet before it was the Internet that we all know today. In Stephenson’s world, countries, jails, and churches become franchises, members of organized crime like the Mafia become the good guys, and people give up their own humanity to stay in the Metaverse longer. If you are looking for a smart parody of science fiction conventions, that at the same time questions reliance on technology as well as the importance of communication, then crash into Snow Crash as soon as possible.
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