Book Review – The Little Prince (By: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

When attempting to clean up and organize my books, I found I had (at least) three copies of The Little Prince (all 3 from various print runs). Seeing that I had so many copies of such an acclaimed book that I had never read, (and had been recommended to me a few times when out in the world selling my own books) I just had to put it into my to-read pile.

Slightly Higher in Canada

I knew very little of the book, save that it was an illustrated “children’s book” and the titular prince lived on a small planet (asteroid). And upon starting it up I was captivated from the dedication (a good dedication is something you don’t see very often). The story is simple: a pilot crashes in the desert and meets the little prince while trying to fix his plane. As they talk the pilot learns more about the prince, an astral child living in a world of whimsy (and adults “unfortunately”) and relays this information to the reader.

The first portion of the book, where the author is talking about himself and then meeting the Little Prince is thoroughly entertaining and engrossing. This wanes slightly as it moves into the mildly monotonous recitation of the prince’s adventures coming to and on earth. But it comes back with a wonderfully emotional, if heavily telegraphed, ending. And even if you don’t think it’s as great as I do, it is very short (after all, it is ostensibly a children’s book) and a good chunk of its page length is taken up by the illustrations.

Supposedly it is a children’s book, but I might have to disagree. While most morals in children’s literature are dubious, quite often the ones on display here aren’t particularly good. And I feel that the story wouldn’t resonate as much with children or early teenagers as it would with the adults it appears to me it was obviously written for. It’s a tale of childhood imagination and love made while the author had recently seen his country defeated by Nazis and was living discontentedly in the Americas. At the time the author was a man who was tired of “matters of consequence”, as it were.

And that desire to go back to being childlike doesn’t seem like something children would enjoy. Or if they picked up on the motifs, they might get the wrong idea. The flower (the object of the little prince’s affection) is selfish and harsh; friendship and taming are presented as strangely absolute but with little benefit to either party, and there is an overarching feeling of futility through it all. The world of selfish men, tipplers, businessmen, and kings (not forgetting the “negro kings” as it says) isn’t changed by the little prince, and while he “sees through it” it is obvious that “matters of consequence” do have consequences.

And the prince himself is a mysterious character. On his “planet” he is quite responsible, cleaning out the volcanoes, pulling up the baobab trees, and tending to the flower. But he suddenly leaves with little reason and shows almost no concern for the plight of others. He relentlessly asks questions until he gets a response but doesn’t answer any himself, and he takes actions only to further his own personal journey. And that might be indicative of many a young person, or the story must simply go on, but still, it is quite a contrast.

Even so I was very engaged with the story and enjoyed it the whole way through. The pilot and the prince both have a charm and personality that comes through the words. Of course I’m reading in English, so the original French may have been better or worse (how do I keep reading translated works?). And there’s a quality in it that just speaks to me both as an artist and a twenty-something.

So is it good? Yes. Would I recommend it? Probably, though it is a sad and longing book (my eyes blurred once or twice). Does it deserve all the praise? In a way, I don’t think it’s quite as good as many people do, but it is an excellently crafted work of literature and art as well as being a halfway decent children’s book. And as a creative person in either painting or prose (or both), it is almost a mandatory read. For others, there’s a lot to be found in this little book, and not a lot to be lost save an hour (and maybe some tears).

Inspiring Lives

This is an article I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time. It’s just been sitting in my queue for a long time, as I continued to feel that I needed to do more research in order to convey my message properly. But I think I have changed my mind. I think the idea that I am trying to convey can be better understood if one applies it themselves and doesn’t just have me listing of the flaws of famous people. Perhaps I have to explain things a little better before that sentence makes sense.

People talk all the time about people that are inspiring to them and most of this is due to specific things a person did, either in the face of adversity, or driving innovation. Many times, though, it can be found that these people who are great in the eyes of history for having done something great were much less than great in their personal lives, or even other parts of their public lives we rarely hear about. I could easily spout off a set of names of famous people who weren’t that great on many occasions, but that might just be boring and feel like padding*.

But does this lack of being great people in aspects of their lives we don’t remember them for make them less inspiring? One could say that it’s more subjective than that (the answer is already subjective) or that the punishment (of your future lack of being inspired by a person) should fit the crime better. A person who was a petty thief at times would be more inspiring than someone who did a thing equally inspiring but was a mass murderer. But that argument doesn’t entirely convince me.

This gets brought up a lot nowadays, especially when talking about Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla (for the record, both of them were crazy and didn’t treat other people very well). People having been brought up thinking Edison was a genius and being inspired by his story seem all to eager to jump on the Tesla bandwagon and talk about how much Edison sucked. But I’m not really convinced that makes Edison’s tale a less inspiring one. True, one shouldn’t strive to imitate the man exactly, but the story of a man with very little formal education becoming one of the world’s best-known inventors through almost sheer will is indeed inspiring.

I think that what “inspires” the newer generations shouldn’t be complete pictures of a person. While those should be disseminated and understood, it is almost necessary to look only at the good or great things that a person has done to motivate yourself. Telling myself the flaws of a “great” person is a de-motivator, and encourages my personal laziness. To say “Wow! If this person could accomplish that as 25 just think of what I could do?” is much more motivating than “Well, I’m 25 and I haven’t done that, but I haven’t gambled away my family fortune like him either, so I’m net even”. Almost every time.



*Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, anyone who is famous for being a general (e.g. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, etc). And now I’m just tired of making a list, but basically any artist, writer, inventor, or politician seems to fit the bill.

Book Review – The Perpetual Motion Machine by Paul Scheerbart

The Perpetual Motion Machine by Paul Scheerbart is a “nonfiction” book from the turn of the 20th century that documents the attempts of German novelist and “optimist” (my term) to create a perpetual motion machine. The book has several portions that are journal entries and several “essay” portions that talk about the effects of the machine. Interspersed in necessary areas are 26 diagrams of his attempts to create the machine.


Needless to say, the man wasn’t successful (though, on the final page, he claims to be), but the book is still an interesting read. The outside presents itself as a more scientific work, but right off the bat, the author describes himself as seeing wheels at all times of the day and how he is driven to attempt to create his machine. There is little sense behind why he keeps pushing on, beyond his relentless optimism that there is a solution. Quickly, though, he dreads a solution, as he is afraid of the military using the invention for war, or he fears that providing infinite energy to the people of the world would destroy civilization, not bring it up. At times, both their being and not being a solution are equally terrible to him.

The machines presented in his diagrams are themselves quite simple and it’s easy to understand why they don’t work if you have a basic understanding of forces. Some have wheels spinning in the wrong direction, but most would require friction to be completely absent. Indeed, all of the models he constructed never did work, but he blames his lack of mechanical ability for this and not the idea that a perpetual motion machine can’t work. He has plumbers and mechanics set up the devices and they don’t work either. Nevertheless, he applies for patents anyway.

The meat of the book, though, is really his essays on what the future would be like with such a machine. He describes tasks that would be difficult even with such machines as “simple”: how easily mountains could be moved and transportation refined, and how all of the energy needed by humans can be provided by the “earthstar”. It’s all a bit crazy. His first attempt at making the machine was caused by the insertion of a “perpetual motion car” in one of his stories, where the cab was hung inside a wheel that drove one on forever. My first thoughts, of course, are how does one stop or get in and out? Neither of these potential problems are addressed, and the idea of the machine is jumped to with gusto. The diagrams do show an evolution from this point, but are all very basic and one loses interest slightly with each new one. Fortunately the book is quite short, and it never gets down to a position that is boring. The essays and diagrams are presented in a manner that prevents the reader from becoming bored, and keeps them in the thought process.

The talk of how cities, money, and war will change because of invention is at its best based on very simple theories and not in any particular fact. But, then again, the machine is impossible so the theories are impossible. He starts with talking about how we will exist on other planets, but decides Earth is good enough. This is repeated when he talks about how the financial institutions will fall, but then he wonders what he’ll have to do to continue existing. He is right to believe that inventing such a machine would make him rich, and perhaps equally right that he would either become a target, or his money would become worthless afterwards. All the musing about this makes it easy to climb into his head and understand what he is trying to say a little bit better. Paul is relatable and empathetic as a narrator and author (at least in this text).

But is the book good? Yes, it’s crazy, but good. Seeing how another mind that doesn’t work very similarly to the “common” idea of a person is fascinating. The idea of perpetual motion and the world that such a device would create is equally fascinating. Even knowing that the man is obviously an eccentric (crazy) and that the idea won’t work doesn’t diminish the book. Looking into another’s thought process is always and enlightening experience, and something can certainly be learned from this book, even if it is far removed from a way to make a perpetual motion machine.

Table Topics Family 58 #115-116


1. What’s your favorite story about an ancestor?

2. What family or school rule would you most like to change?

ANSWERS By: Austin Smith

1. There’s a bunch, and I’ forgetting them now. I like the one about my (great?) grandfather when he was working for a family company, who was providing him with a room and food. He asked why he wasn’t getting paid like the other guys, and they asked him what he was doing with all the slips of paper they gave him every week. He said he was saving them, and he had enough checks stored up to buy the company, which he did.

2. The one that makes me not in charge.

Book Review – Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power – By Andrew Nagorski

Hitlerland is an amazing title for a book, and it was one of the lesser titles in a set of books I picked up one day that I hope to read. Still, it was one of the first that I wanted to actually read.


Hitlerland covers a period from 1922 to 1942, and follows American journalists, diplomats, and military attaches in Germany from that period. It attempts to display their feeling and ideas as they were at the time and generally not colored by hindsight, though many times the author will jump in with what the person said later, showing their changes in attitude and/or willingness to admit they made mistakes. Many different pieces of writing, letters, postcards, published and unpublished manuscripts, and more, are used in an attempt to show what these people were doing and how they were feeling during these historic decades.

And I believe it works well. The people are laid out in such a way that they can be judged, but really it’s more interesting to see where they are taken. Whether or not some of these people underestimated the Nazis, or wanted to aid them against the communists, or give the communists aid against them, is much less interesting than how they arrived at their conclusions.

There is a wide variety to be had with the book. Their varying jobs, from radio broadcaster, newspaper reporter, ambassador, diplomat, and military attache are fleshed out to an extent and serve to show how each one would act differently to gain different types of information and be treated differently by the Nazi government. The “story”, which is really a loose conglomeration of anecdotes about Nazi Germany, is well told and exciting. I quite enjoyed the book. It’s one of those with the pictures printed in the middle, though, so one has to be careful with them to not look too far or miss out at the end. (Someone should format the pictures better, maybe with corresponding page numbers). It is a fascinating look from a different perspective, and one often not considered, about the post-WWI German era. And like all sane books, Hitler is indeed condemned, though some of the figures in the book are late, or cautious, in doing so.

If I had any complaints other than formatting, (The hardback also comes with the uneven cut (deckled) sheets that just make it harder to read) it would be the ending is a bit lackluster. It ends rather abruptly after summarizing an amount of time that would’ve take twice the number of pages at least earlier in the book. There is the indication that nothing much happened in the later times.

It’s a good book, but one for those who know some about WWII coming in. It is by no means an introduction, except to the concepts of American correspondents in Berlin during the period leading up to and under Nazi rule. It’s like and introduction to an advanced course. So, if you’re interested, I’d recommend reading up on some other WWII and inter-war things first before diving in. But I believe you will enjoy if you are interested.