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Book Review: The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen

TUDRipplecoverThe Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen (English translation by H.P. Paull, ilustrations by Ripple Digital Publishing Corp.) is a brilliantly written fable. I recently re-read it and found that, in its own way, the tale repudiates collectivism and egalitarianism – the idea that everyone should be regarded as equal in everything – with a clever inversion.

Without revealing the story’s twist, the duckling is born ugly, which he can’t help. Other ducks ridicule, even assault, him just for being different. His own siblings spurn him. At first, his mother defends him until, seeking others’ approval, she finally says she wishes he had never been born.

After more rejection and abuse, he flees his family for another group’s domain, where he is told that he will be tolerated as long as he doesn’t marry into the collective. He moves on to a group of wild ducks, facing the threat of the huntsman. With shots firing, and birds falling around him, the Ugly Duckling chooses to think; he hides, waits and bides his time to leave when it’s safe. When he does depart, he is exceedingly cautious. He takes nothing for granted. It’s the first hint that he might be better than everyone else. This is made explicit in the next part of the story when he is castigated by a hen for thinking he’s better than others as he finds himself among a trio of misfits. “Do you consider yourself more clever than the cat, or the old woman?” asks the hen. “Don’t imagine such nonsense, child, and thank your good fortune that you have been received here.”

The Ugly Duckling refuses to be humble. In encounter after encounter, he senses that he might be special. He sadly moves on after each episode, seeking happiness, and the lonely path he takes exacts a heavy toll. That he sees himself as he truly is only when he makes himself ready to give up climaxes the moral of the story, which is a kind of fable about authentic self-esteem. Adversity makes you stronger is certainly part of Andersen’s point but The Ugly Duckling is not, as is sometimes claimed, merely about being different. It is also a tale about discovering and becoming aware of one’s potential. The notion that one should accept himself as he is, recognizing limitations and strengths and accepting that life is hard, and pain is temporary, is obviously relevant to those who are different. But this story is also, and not as obviously, meaningful to the one who is better than others yet unaware of the truth.

New Title, Art for Peikoff’s First Book

TCOHGOn November 25, Penguin gives a new title, cover art (pictured here) and author’s preface to Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant first book, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.

The book, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany, is an exhaustive philosophical study of what caused Nazi Germany. As the publisher’s new promotional material promises, Dr. Peikoff examines self-sacrifice, Oriental mysticism, racial “truth,” the public good and doing one’s duty—seductive catchphrases that circulated in Weimar Germanyand he demonstrates how unreason and collectivism led a seemingly civilized society to become Nazi Germany. Peikoff, who grew up in western Canada, lives in southern California and teaches a writing course in which I am enrolled, worked closely with Ayn Rand for 30 years. The preeminent Rand scholar and estate heir taught philosophy at Hunter College and New York University. Here, he offers a breathtaking comparative study and analysis of the rise of fascism in the United States. This was the first book by an Objectivist author other than Rand that I read and I found it utterly absorbing, like taking an intellectual odyssey in a style distinctly different from Rand’s non-fiction in the form of a cogent and captivating lesson in the modern history of philosophy culminating in the Nazi atrocities while ingeniously integrating what the author warns is the impending meltdown of the New Left. I was fascinated to learn that most Germans possessed, read and accepted Hitler’s Mein Kampf and to see how the ideas of Schopenhauer, Hegel and Kant continue to spread and influence the world around me. Philosopher and podcaster Peikoff, who was Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has written two other books, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out.

This volume includes the original introduction by Rand, who endorsed The Cause of Hitler’s Germany as “[a] truly revolutionary idea…. Clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned.”

We the Living in 2014

Ayn Rand was asked to adapt her first novel, We the Living, which was published 78 years ago this week and has sold 3 million copies since, for the theatre and I recently learned that two never-before published versions of her stage play will be published this fall.

UncconqueredPalMacmillanAccording to Amazon’s book page for The Unconquered: With Another, Earlier Adaptation of We the Living, the hardcover volume by Rand will feature “the first and last versions (the latter entitled The Unconquered)…[w]ith a preface that places the work in its historical and political context, an essay on the history of the theatrical adaptation … and two alternative endings…” The new work is edited by philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, whom I interviewed five years ago about the novel. He also teaches at OCON.

WetheLivingWe the Living is a bitter tale of a triangle in Soviet Russia and an epic story of ideas, love and life. The 1936 novel, which I wrote about for an article distributed by Scripps Howard and again in a review of the movie adaptation, is haunting, unforgettable and helpful to living everyday life.

Book Review: I Never Knew That About New York

I-Never-Knew-That-About-NY-1The first cafe to serve cappuccino in America, Cafe Reggio, established in 1927 and featured in 1970s movies such as Shaft, Serpico and The Godfather Part II, is among the scads of trivia in the always enjoyable if not comprehensive I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher Winn, whose I Never Knew That… series is also nicely illustrated by his wife, Mai Osawa. The book goes on sale today.

For first-time visitors, longtime residents or those like me in between who have had an on-again, off-again relationship with America’s greatest city, this $16 paperback packs facts, stories and information into its pages. Lord & Taylor was the first store to introduce Christmas window displays, for instance, which one learns in an entry on Fifth Avenue. Most bits are included as stand alone paragraphs, though the book is separated by geography and includes essays, sidebars and longer but still short histories such as the bit on the New York Public Library.

I Never Knew That About New York contains morsels that may inform even the lifelong New Yorker. Did you know, for instance, that the Statue of Liberty’s real name is “Liberty Enlightening the World” and that Statue of Liberty is a nickname? You may know that Columbus Circle is the point from which all official distances to and from New York are measured, as Winn writes here, but do you know that the world’s first cinema opened in New York inside a converted shoe store? Among my favorites is a listing with online and physical addresses of places that are open to the public, from the J.P. Morgan Library and Columbia University to the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Empire State Building. Neither encyclopedia nor travel guide, this hybrid of condensed histories is useful and interesting to everyone who loves New York