I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Written by: Malala Yousafzai
Narrated by: Archie Panjabi
Malala Yousafzai may be narrowly identified as a symbol of women’s rights. That categorization is certainly earned but one is left wondering what will become of this young woman.
Malala lives the life of an old soul–advocating for equal rights at eleven years old and being nearly murdered at 15. Malala will be 20 years old this July.
As most know, Malala is shot in the head by two young Taliban who attacked her school bus in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. We know they were Taliban because they acknowledged responsibility soon after the attack. Miraculously, the bullet did not penetrate Malala’s brain but bone fragments from the shock of impact severed a facial nerve and temporarily paralyzed most of her motor functions. Malala is rushed to a hospital in Pakistan and is saved from immediate danger by a competent Pakistani neurosurgeon. The world is apprised of the attempted assassination and sends messages of support for Malala’s recovery. In “I Am Malala”, a listener finds that after-care in Pakistan nearly ends Malala’s chance for survival.
Somewhat ironically, Great Britain comes to Malala’s aid. The irony is in the long history of Great Britain’s colonization of Malala’s homeland. There is historical justification for India/Pakistani’ ambivalence toward the West. “I Am Malala” touches on that ambivalence. However, Malala recognizes how important Great Britain’s assistance was in saving her life.
Malala reminds listeners of the lost lives of her countryman from American drone strikes and the invasion of Pakistani air space; including military action to kill Osama bin Laden.
On the one hand, Malala shows embarrassment over bin Laden’s successful sanctuary in Pakistan; on the other, she implies America should have worked with the Pakistani government to capture the world’s most notorious terrorist. There is a whiff of resentment in Malala’s depiction of the West’s treatment of her country but it is ameliorated by her principled stand for education, equal opportunity, and Pakistan’ sovereignty.
“I Am Malala” shows a young girl with great resilience and ambition. One is left with the impression that Malala will return to Pakistan. She will attempt to become a leader in her home country. The message one gets from her book is that Pakistan is a great and beautiful country that can be a partner with the West as an independent and Islamic nation. Malala is a politician in waiting. One hopes for her success.
How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror
Written by: Reza Aslan
Narration by: Sunil Malhotra
Reza Aslan suggests there is no in-between in wars defined by religion. Aslan’s observation is that 21st century terrorism is grounded in, and defined by, religion. The consequence is a war that has spiritual but little human dimension. Aslan infers today’s war and terrorist actions are based on apocryphal religious texts. The texts are written by men who interpret the word of God; i.e. texts that speak of ephemeral mortality, and an eternal afterlife. The interpreters of God are saying–be part of this religion or be an infidel, an apostate; worth less than nothing. You are with us or against us. There is no in-between.
George Bush, after 9/11, says “You’re either with us, or against us.” and later suggests “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” Aslan notes that “crusade” resurrects religions’ motive in war. The motive is to split society in two; one side as believers and the other as infidels (non-believers). Even though Bush denies that meaning in later interviews, “crusade” suggests subliminally, if not consciously, invocation of the Christian crusades.
In the course of 200 years, an estimated two hundred million people are killed in the Christian Crusades. Osama bin Laden says “As long as I am alive, there will be no rest for the enemies of Islam. I will continue my mission against them.”One infers every person is an enemy of Islam that fails to endorse bin Laden’s unschooled interpretation of the Koran. “You’re either with us, or against us,” W’s invocation, also defines bin Laden’s bifurcation of humanity.
In “How to Win a Cosmic War”, Aslan explores terrorism in history, from its beginning in biblical texts to its practice in the 21st century. He argues that the essence of conflict is the same. It always revolves around us and them; no in-between. However, the tools of destruction (WMD) and the consequence of globalizing religious ideals suggest cosmic rather than regional consequence. Aslan infers the invocation of religion in modern war discounts the value of earthly existence. There is no room for education beyond religious teachings. There is only faith in one religious factions understanding of the word of God. Life on earth is qualified by life in the hereafter. “You’re either with us, or against us.”
An Islamist, Christian, or Jewish terrorist is buckled by religion; i.e. fastened and bent by a “them-us” dichotomy. A terrorist motivated by religion has less care about life on earth. He cares about life after death. Aslan infers, to a religious terrorist, one’s time on earth is an ephemeral struggle because their religion offers perfect and eternal life. Aslan tells the story of an Islamist vendor that appears to be offering ice cream to children in a push cart. The vendor opens the lid of the cart, flips a switch; self immolates, and murders or maims all children near the blast. Aslan paints a terrorist picture that says the message to unbelievers is the point; deaths earthly existence is irrelevant. The message is “believe and follow my religious faith” because there is no other; there is no in-between.
Aslan acknowledges terrorist history is not limited to religious fanatics. It has been used by secular leaders like Genghis Kahn who ruled the largest territory ever conquered by one leader. Unquestionably, terrorism is part of Kahn’s success but Aslan infers it is terrorism for a material rather than ethereal world.
Aslan recounts numerous Old Testament’ stories of genocidal murder of innocent men, women, and children because they were them; i.e. the “them” that did not believe in Judeo-Christian rituals that marked their religious belief. Islamist terrorism, Christian crusades, Genghis Kahn’s mogul hordes, Stalin’s Gulags, and Hitler’s murder of 6,000,000 Jews, are horrendous examples of terrorism but Aslan suggests the injection of religion creates a cosmic dimension to war. This added dimension revolves around hearts and minds, not material conquest; making the “War on Terror” more difficult to end.
Aslan ratchets up the difficulty of “Cosmic War” with 21st century globalization that crosses international borders creating terrorist cells around the world. The message medium for terrorist cells is cyberspace.
Aslan notes how terrorism can now focus on the near as well as the far. Aslan infers that military weaponry cannot win a “Cosmic War”. Automating death with drones does not kill ideas.
Aslan’s answer to how to end a cosmic war is a simplistic answer to a complex problem. Aslan suggests democracy is what will end the war on terror. The irony of this simple answer is that democracy offers a framework for abandonment of the “no in-between” myth. The goal of democracy revolves around belief in freedom; i.e. the freedom to choose representatives of different factional beliefs, and for those factions to live as they wish within a diverse polity.
Aslan’s book is published in 2009. A lot has happened since then. The raucous consequence of Arab Spring has returned Egypt to a military dictatorship. The participation of the Arab Brotherhood in Egypt has been forced underground. Syria is still controlled by a dictator. Palestine remains stateless. Israel continues to build walls and settlements in occupied territories. Iran remains an Islamic state. Iraq is under attack by nationalist factions. ISIL is trying to create a caliphate, a form of Islamic government, by replacing politically instituted Middle Eastern states into one nation.
As much as one may wish to agree with Aslan, the mixture of religion and government in the Nuclear Age seems like a formula for Armageddon. On the other hand, time settled many terrorist wars of the past. Every democracy does not mean American’ democracy, but democracy has always endorsed in-between beliefs within its polities. Aslan’s argument for “How to Win a Cosmic War” offers a little hope but with big risk.
Helene Wecker’s first novel opens a new world of imagination. As in all stories built on myth or legend, “The Golem and the Jinni” draws on universal human interest. Wecker explores differences between men and women, faith and religion, caring and not caring, love and friendship. The choice of George Guidell as narrator makes a good story even better.
A golem is a legendary Jewish’ figure made of clay and mud that lives and dies by the magic of Hebraic’ spells.
A golem is a robotic slave designed by a Jewish magician to serve and protect one person. It is stronger than five men and, when provoked, acquires a blood-lust that destroys all in its path. At the beginning of Wecker’s story, the golem and its master are crossing the Atlantic, bound for America. The golem’s master dies just before arriving at Ellis Island. The golem arrives in New York alone.
A jinni is a legendary Muslim’ spirit; it flies like the wind and is born of other jinn who have lived for generations. The Muslim’ spirit has many different personalities; ranging from the impish; to the lustful; to the terrifying. Wecker’s tale chooses a jinni that carries the heat of hell but is more like an impish playboy than a demon. However, this jinni is enslaved by an evil alchemist. The jinni is constrained in an iron bracelet, placed by the alchemist on the wrist of its human form, that denies many of its powers. The jinni may be called upon from a metal lamp (a prison designed by the alchemist) to do as told by his enslaver. In a jinni’s normal state it can take the form of an ephemeral spirit, a human, or an animal while possessing its consciousness. But this jinni cannot change forms and is at the beck and call of its enslaver.
As Wecker’s story unfolds, the jinni’s enslaver dies at the time of the jinni’s capture in the metal lamp. The jinni in Wecker’s story is released from the metal lamp many generations later when being repaired by a Syrian shop keeper living in New York. Both, the golem and jinni appear in New York in the early 20th century; one is without its master; the other is without its enslaver.
Now, forget what you think you know about a golem or jinni as a monster. In Wecker’s novel, the monster under the bed, or in your dream, is not a golem or jinni. The monster is you, a human being. Wecker cleverly reveals myths of Jewish and Islamic demons in a story that blends human nature with a perception of differences between masculine and feminine mystique. Along the way, Wecker raises issues of faith and religion; caring and not caring; love and friendship. Wecker creates two powerful mythological characters with a supporting cast that contrast and reveal the nature of human beings. Wecker’s golem is feminine; her jinni is masculine.
The golem and jinni find each other in New York. They immediately recognize each’s true nature; not in detail, but in general. The golem can see the glow of fire in the jinni’s face; the jinni can see the earthen substance of the golem’s body. Neither of these entities knows of the legends of the other but they recognize their kindred isolation from humans. As their relationship develops, their characters change.
As the golem and jinni begin to know each other they reveal the mystique of gender; i.e. the masculine mystique of seduction and the feminine mystique of emotional attachment; each mystique carrying its own power. Wecker trades on this chimera by creating a growing, possibly romantic, relationship between the golem and jinni. The golem cares about others to the point of obsession. In contrast, the jinni cares only about itself. Both golem and jinni have extreme forms of equally destructive human characteristics; i.e. obsessive interest in what others think and obsessive interest in the self. Part of Wecker’s story explains how the golem and jinni moderate obsessive caring and extreme narcissism. Moderation comes from time and familiarity; i.e. a realization that no one is perfect and imperfection is part of human’ life.
Faith and religion are tested by supporting characters. When the golem first arrives in New York, a Rabbi rescues her from a belligerent New Yorker. The Rabbi knows she is a golem because of his rabbinical studies. The Rabbi takes the golem into his home and counsels her on how to behave in public to protect her identity. The Rabbi knows of the blood-lust risk inherent in a golem and wrestles with destruction or preservation of her being. The Rabbi dies of old age before making a decision but his faith is evident in the counsel he gives the golem. The Rabbi decries the golem maker’s dangerous act in creating life with inference that life is only in the purview of God; not man.
Belief in God is challenged by the magic and myth of Wecker’s story. In “The Golem and Jinni” life is created by man. God is questioned by the nephew of the golem’s helpful Rabbi. A human’s reincarnation and magic are at the heart of the story; i.e. both conceptual constructs, antithetical to belief in one God. The skepticism of the Rabbi’s nephew, the golem, and the jinni challenge the notion of God.
Human caring for others supplants much of the Rabbi’s devout belief in God. However, the ambivalence of caring shown by the Jinni are a part of Wecker’s story. Set in the early 1900s, when immigrants are entering the United States through Ellis Island, Wecker reveals how dependent new arrivals were (and still are) on the care of others who came before. One wonders how there can be a God with so much pain and hardship in the world.
Finally, at the story’s end, one hears an echo of the author’s view of love and friendship. Love and friendship’s differences lay somewhere between trust in what one says and the reality of what one does.
Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America
Written by: Dan Savage
Narrated by: Dan Savage
With tongue in cheek, Dan Savage shows himself to be a committed hedonist. He rails against the conservative rants of the 3Bs, William Bennett, Robert Bork, and Pat Buchanan by celebrating the seven sins of humankind—Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Sloth.
All seven sins are lampooned and coveted with delight. Savage views pride in the light of a Gay Pride parade, envy in a man’s lust for another’s lover, gluttony in a fellow gourmand, lust among consenting sexual partners, anger in the terror of 9/11, greed in the desire for more of everything, and sloth in the use of drugs.
A surprise in the beginning of Savage’s book is his contention that the seven deadly sins are not noted in the bible. A little research suggests he is wrong. In the Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 (the second book of the third section of the Hebrew Bible), “…six things the Lord hateth and seven that are an abomination unto Him…” are noted. Also, another list is given in the ninth book of the New Testament in Galatians 5:19-21, the Epistle to the Galatians.
Of course, whether the sins are mentioned in the Bible or not is not relevant to Savage’s theme. Savage argues that humans should have the freedom to pursue happiness wherever it lies, as long as it does no harm to others. Savages argument is that freedom to choose happiness, whether God-given or not, is written into the American’ Declaration of Independence. When that pursuit is infringed upon, Savage suggests it violates America’s founding document and denies human beings’ natural rights.
Though many of Savage’s examples of hedonistic behavior are distasteful, an undeniable truth is human nature is, at times, prideful, envious, gluttonous, lustful, angry, greedy, and slothful. What irks Savage and any rational being are the portentous and duplicitous comments of ultra conservative pundits like Bork, Bennett, and Buchanan that say they know what sin is and government should legislate against it. Savage’s argument is that when a person’s pursuit of happiness is not harmful to others, it is legitimized by the American’ Declaration of Independence and the nature of humankind.
One may grant that Bork, Bennett, and Buchanan are pompous conservatives that lie to others, and probably themselves. However, Savage is not defining “harmful to others” or “happiness”, well enough to convince one that hedonism is a worthy pursuit. Few would disagree that all human beings are subject to the seven deadly sins. Sin is a part of the human condition. However, sin cannot be fairly judged because the fox is in the chicken house; i.e. those who legislate are as sinful as those who are legislated against. Those who try to legislate against sin have undoubtedly experienced sin in mind or body. Where Savage is right in principle is that as long as one’s sin is not harmful to others, it should not be legislated against. The difficulty is in knowing where to draw the line on what is harmful to others.
Pursuit of hedonism, contrary to Savage’s argument, may be harmful to others, but more significantly, happiness is always qualified and ephemeral. Sin is a part of the human condition but pursuit of it is a fool’s predilection. Americans are not Skipping Towards Gomorrah; i.e. Americans, like all human beings, are what they are, and do what they do–humans live, experience, and die, rarely knowing or understanding happiness.
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
Written by: Jim Holt
Narrated by: Steven Menasche
With a smile and a pair of tennis shoes, Jim Holt tries to sell the idea that there is an answer to the question, “Why Does the World Exist?” Like Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman”, Holt has a gift for gab but neither he nor anyone else is able to close the sale.
It is certainly not that Holt is not a good salesman but he tries to sell a thing impossible to define. No known person has enough theoretical or experimental proof to convince one there is an answer to “Why Does the World Exist?” All that remains is faith, either in science, religion, or philosophy. Holt’s “…Existential Detective Story” is a terrific synthesis of physics, religion, and philosophy but the mystery remains, “Why Does the World Exist?”
From New York, to London, to Paris, Holt interviews some of the most renowned scientists, writers, and philosophers in the world. He is in search of an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing in the universe. To argue there was a big bang that created the universe only begs the question; i.e. it is not an answer but a theory on the creation of something from nothing. The closest one conceives of the idea of creating something from nothing is an explanation given by numbers. Beginning with zero as nothing, one can have a negative “1” and a positive “1”, but combined they make a sum. That sum of positive “1” and negative “1” is zero, a something out of nothing.
That is a nice intellectual explanation of how nothing is something but it does not warm one’s heart or make one feel they understand why the world exists. In “Why Does the World Exist” Holt impressively manages to interview a series of people who have different answers to the question. Ed Tryon is an American scientist who says “the universe is simply one of those things that happens from time to time.” Holt explains, Tryon is saying that big bangs are natural cosmic events that happen in the infinity of time and space, so get over it.
John Leslie, a Canadian philosopher believes there is a Creator and that “goodness” is at the heart of the world’s creation. Holt asks how Leslie can believe that when there is so much grief and despair in the world. Leslie explains goodness is a process; i.e. it created the world and steadily improves the world as it evolves.
David Deutsch, a British physicist, suggests an answer will not be found because it depends on an understanding of consciousness; i.e. how the mind works. Deutsch believes without understanding how consciousness works, there is no chance of stepping outside of oneself to search for an answer to why the world exists. Holt suggests the idea of understanding how a mind works is a conclusion that includes itself, a circular deception. Deutsch seems to agree by suggesting artificial intelligence is a pipe dream because it is unlikely consciousness will ever be objectively understood. Deutsch is also a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics; i.e. the idea that there may be an infinite number of parallel worlds because the wave function discovered in quantum mechanics does not collapse but simply appears in a different world. Another idea that suggests something can seem to appear out of nothing.
Like Don Quixote, Holt puts a pan back on his head, grabs his lance, swings his leg over Rocinante, and tilts at Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” to answer the question of why the world exists. It is simply a matter of what you think. Of course, Holt does not believe this is an answer either. He is a very smart guy, a good writer, and an insightful philosopher; i.e. an interesting journey, but no destination.
Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion
By: Janet Reitman
Narrated by: Stephen Hoye
Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology suggests Scientology is a movement gone mad. Scientology began with L. Ron Hubbard, a charismatic leader whose self-examination led to a humanist’ interpretation of mind. (Mind is defined as an element of belief and thought about the world and one’s experience in it.)
Hubbard recognized there was money to be made from ideas revealed in his self-examination; particularly, if “Dianetics” (Hubbard’s book about those ideas) could be classified as a guide to a belief system he christened as Scientology in 1953.
A religion is defined as “pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”. This broad definition led Hubbard to seek state recognition of Scientology as a new religion. Reitman notes that Hubbard’s primary objective was to eliminate taxation on his planned enterprise.
Hubbard established the Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey in 1953. Scientology was accepted by the United States as a religious non-profit in 1957 and then denied by the IRS in 1958. Regaining religious non-profit status became a primary goal of Scientology for the following 30 plus years.
Hubbard, like Vladimir Lenin, initiated an ideological organization that grew into something bigger than its ideas could hold. From numerous interviews, Reitman finds that Scientology preaches a gospel of many lives lived by the same person. Reitman notes that Hubbard’s self-analysis leads him to believe that the mind remembers everything that happens in a person’s many lives; particularly traumatic events. Hubbard believes those traumatic events carry through in the same person and block human potential in their latest incarnation. Hubbard develops a concept and process called “going clear” to remove blockage in one’s mind from those traumatic events. Hubbard believes a bridge can be built to a kind of self-actualization (a fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities). Building that bridge is done through a process called auditing (a question, answer, re-live, and repeat process) by a person trained in Scientology. Each audit is intended to remove the bad effects of past traumatic events in a person’s life.
This brilliant idea offers a pathway to profit; particularly for a non-profit religion. Every person that wishes to “go clear”, will pay for the audit sessions. The obvious comparison is psychiatry which is, to a Scientologist, a mortal and nefarious competitor. Scientologists abhor the use of drugs to treat any psychotic or neurotic behavior.
Hubbard creates Sea Org to escape Federal’ scrutiny of Scientology in 1967. He moves the headquarters of the organization to the sea with 4 ocean-going vessels. Sea Org grows into a paramilitary organization for the management and training of elite Scientologists. Its organization returns to the United States and transitions into a training camp under the leadership of Hubbard, and later, David Miscavige (the present leader of Scientology). Reitman’s description of Sea Org reminds one of Plato’s “Republic” in which a school is formed to train future members of an idealized state. Hubbard initiated the training of young children with Sea Org’s creation but Miscavige refined the recruitment, education, and isolation of young recruits. These recruits were separated from their birth parents at prepubescent ages to become laborers, proselytizers, acolytes, and administrators of Scientology.
Religious, non-profit status is regained in 1993, 13 years after Hubbard’s death. Reitman tells the story of Scientology’s battle with the IRS. She recounts epic confrontations with IRS’ leadership and reveals stories of Scientology’s dirty tricks campaign to win “non-profit religion” classification. Unrelenting litigation, spying, and dirty tricks are characterized as common tactics used by the founder and present leader of Scientology to win the non-profit designation from the IRS.
Reitman provides a boat load of information that persuasively argues that Hubbard’s Scientology is not well enough organized or qualified to handle the consequence of the idea of “going clear” by delving into the mind of sincere acolytes. The biggest case in point is the story of Lisa McPherson, a person who dies while in the care of Scientologists who follow strict rules of the religion. Though no one in Scientology is convicted for malfeasance in McPherson’s case, the professional capabilities of Scientology’s followers seem highly suspect.
Reitman focuses on Scientology to reveal an organization in crisis. As with all movements that begin with a charismatic leader, when the leader dies either the movement dies, or it turns into something different. Just as Lenin did not appoint a successor for Russian’ communism, Hubbard did not choose a successor for Scientology. Reitman reveals that David Miscavige assumes control of Scientology when Hubbard dies in Creston, California on January 24, 1986. Miscavige purges followers of Hubbard soon after the founder’s death. Miscavige takes control of Scientology’s remaining acolytes. Miscavige accomplishes this with what a sales person calls an assumptive close, a final decision by a buyer (the follower of Scientology) based on assumed power and authority of the seller (Miscavige). With removal of original Hubbard’ followers, Miscavige takes control with the force of his personality and ambition. No active Scientologists are left to disagree with Miscavige or compete for control.
Reitman characterizes Miscavige as a revenue-focused manager that has little charisma but an autocratic management style that gets things done in a structured organization. Miscavige’s weakness is that he relies on his understanding of Hubbard’s insight to the human mind. If Scientology is a religion, Miscavige is like the Pope of the Catholic Church; i.e. he has a book (a series of a founder’s proclamations) to follow but it is a book of parables, as well as a book of “truth”. Knowing and acting on the “truth” is an interpretation of an interpretation. Reitman interviews a number of exiled Scientologists that still believe in Scientology but think Miscavige has strayed from the truth of Hubbard’s vision.
Reitman offers many titillating stories of famous Scientologists like Hubbard, Miscavige, John Travolta, and Tom Cruise. But, the most troubling aspect of Reitman’s reveal is that even if Scientology is not a legitimate religion, it is not humanly equipped to exclusively manage the human psyche. Scientology needs help from the outside world. After listening to Inside Scientology, one doubts any religion or organization is capable of exclusive responsibility for the human psyche. Evidence mounts for the opinion that Scientology, under the leadership of Miscavige, is a movement going mad.
By Chet Yarbrough
The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archrive By: Brandon Sanderson
Narration by: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer
The Way of Kings is a guilty pleasure: i.e. guilty for listening to 45 hours of an audio book; pleasure from a writer’s imagination that vivifies human strength and weakness. Brandon Sanderson teaches creative writing at BYU. Judging from Wikipedia’s bio of Sanderson, he uses three laws when teaching or writing creative fiction. Each of these laws helps explain why The Way of Kings is a pleasure worth its 45 hour length.
Sanderson’s first law is—“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” The Way of Kings is filled with magic. Sanderson skillfully develops characters while traveling back and forth in place, time, and dimension to explain the origin and meaning of magic; magic which is something like science or something like God. Magic’s meaning and the quest for a Supreme Being are explored with each character’s perspective and each leap in place, time, and dimension.
Sanderson’s second law is that characters of a story must have limitations greater than their powers. Power wielded, by Sanderson’s characters, are limited by nature because nature contains and is conflicted by innate good and evil. Sanderson focuses on limitations of great power to contrast good and evil, viewed as the elementary force of magic or a Supreme Being.
Sanderson’s third law is—“Expand what you already have before you add something new.” Sanderson is a god of creation. Like Hemingway, he creates life on a blank page. Sanderson creates characters that make reader/listeners proud, happy, sad, and genuinely empathetic. He amplifies and explains the strengths and weaknesses of nature in an imagined world of sentient beings.
Books become popularly and/ or literarily accepted to the extent that writer-ly’ skills comport with or enlighten a listener/reader’s life. Sanderson’s popular success and literary commendation give literary weight, meaning, and value to his three laws of creative writing.
This is a story about flawed heroes and heroines; with a bias toward heroic men and subordinate women. (The “subordinate women” comment is not to denigrate Sanderson’s writing but to suggest Sanderson communicates, as all human’s do, with his own learned and inherited memes.) Men are Sanderson’s rulers and warriors. Women are helpmates, lovers, scribes, and caregivers–sustaining humanity but never in front; always in background (another reminder of Hemingway).
The hero of this adventure is Kaladin, the son of a surgeon that becomes a soldier. Kaladin reverences life, like his surgeon father, but becomes a skilled warrior and leader in battles that take many lives. For reasons that only become clear near the end of the story, Kaladin is a gifted healer and “magical” leader.
A heroine of The Way of Kings is Shallan Davar, a daughter of an unscrupulous merchant and sister of three brothers. Shallan is a “Supreme Being” believer that plots the theft of a magical instrument to save her families’ reputation and fortune. Shallan is also an artist with a photographic memory that allows her to precisely draw what she consciously and subconsciously sees.
Other important characters that offer reinforcement of the theme of The Way of Kings are the Kholin family and an assassin called Szeth. The Kholins are a royal family of great reputation for leadership, valor, moral rectitude, and scholarship. Szeth is a slave to whoever owns his Oathstone, a talisman that controls his actions. Szeth has a conscience but cannot disobey the Oathstone barer.
Sentient beings are not perfect; i.e. they are good and evil. The Way of Kings shows that some beings believe there is no God but God; others believe there is no God but science. The Way of Kings suggests there is a middle way. One might conclude from The Way of Kings that sentient beings live life by their own rules and suffer their own consequences.
The Way of Kings audio book will have different meanings to its listeners but the skill of Brandon Sanderson and the expert narration of Reading and Kramer will entertain all who listen to its 45 hour adventure.