Saturday, October 07, 2006

Book Review: Degrees of Freedom

I just finished reading my copy the new book "Degrees of Freedom", and I echo the sentiments of many reviewers in saying that this book truly brings us into a new era of the written word. This book accomplishes so much and is so entertaining that I barely know where to begin. I almost feel embarrassed in putting myself in a position of judgement over this book, as if I can adequately assess this profound work of genius using my reptilian mind.

The book begins in a lecture hall, circa 2005, location: Madison, Wisconsin. A physics professor is lecturing clearly and concisely on the concept of "degrees of freedom", a really boring idea in physics that you shouldn't care about. That is until this author weaves this idea seamlessly with that of another important concept, the concept of slavery. After our brief encounter in the lecture hall, we are taken to late 18th century America, where we meet our hero, a slave named Mercury. As it turns out, Mercury is really sad (due to the slavery). He sets on a course of action to try to free himself from his "yankee oppressors". Through his adventures we come to learn more and more about this character, including his proficiency at manipulating the laws of nature to serve himself. I don't think a lot of slaves had this power, but Mercury sure does. The interesting thing though, is that instead of smiting his captors, he decides to travel in time, to you guessed it, Madison, Wisconsin, circa 2005. Yes, he's the physics professor! Holy smokes, crazy time.

I won't give away too much of this book, mostly because of the difficulty I would have explaining the mirrored story lines in the two eras. For example, it is difficult to imagine how the author could successfully draw parallels between an increasing heat capacity of a gas as the degrees of freedom increase, to that of a slave being exposed to a higher level of freedom, and the emotional toll it takes. But he does it! And in the end, we are led to the questions that we must face ourselves: What is freedom? Am I truly free? The answers may surprise you! (Hint: No, you're not free, metaphorically speaking. If you're an alcoholic, you're a slave to alcohol.)

There are a number of smaller themes throughout the novel as well, which if it weren't for the majestic story drawing our full attention, would surely draw our entire planet further into the truth. It will take years, and many rereadings, for the full glory of this book to shine through. For example, the author manages to finally unite science and religion, rewrite the rules of poetry, and make giant strides in the theory underlying nanotechnology.

Most people are probably hesitant to read 3000+ pages, but if you do, you will come away as a changed human. I used to do cocaine every day. Since I read this book, I no longer have to. The rate at which endorphins are no being produced in my brain has skyrocketed 10-fold.


You may be confused at this point, as there is no book entitled "Degrees of Freedom", or at least I hope not. Often I read a book review and conclude "I wish I wrote that book." Well, now I can. I'm going to email this review out to various publishers, and once someone agrees that they would like to publish a book with that kind of review, the writing process will begin. It is likely that I'll be very rich in a few short weeks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Degrees of Freedom - Tracing the parallel histories of post-slavery Louisiana and Cuba, Scott, a University of Michigan professor of history and law, uses court cases, activist profiles and heart-pounding runaway narratives to slowly draw the reader into the lives of slaves, freedmen and slaveowners (both black and white) of the late nineteenth century Gulf, but dense clots of legal-historic scholarship can prove difficult to navigate for readers not already studied on the subject. Her back and forth cultural contrasts between Louisiana and Cuba are well-crafted, early on laying out her tale's direction: "In Louisiana itself, the space for the discussion of civic and political equality had narrowed almost to the vanishing point. In Cuba in that same year, the space for discussion was still quite open, and different groups of activists debated...the best strategy for asserting their full rights." Though similar economically (both Cuba and Louisiana had agricultural economies that heavily depended on slave labor), the two areas' divergent political climates at the turn of the century saw Louisiana's blacks continue to lose rights, while across the Gulf, voter rolls swelled. Casual history readers may get bogged down by Scott's text, as it assumes more than a nodding familiarity with court precedents and nineteenth century legislation, but oral histories of slaves and their descendants provide refreshing counterpoints to the admirable, though daunting, scholarship.

So that's not your book?

9:32 PM  
Blogger a spoonful weighs a ton said...

That's not my book, but I wish it were. Now I have to think of another clever title that refers to both slavery and physics. Perhaps "Quantum Tunneling to Freedom" (I presume slaves built tunnels to freedom? Hopefully travelling through these tunnels to freedom appeared impossible at first, but then through some good luck, ended up being just the ticket!)

11:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter