In lieu of any hot evolution news, I want to recommend a book I’ve just read and a movie I’ve just seen.
I’m not a big fan of books about war, but I was mightily impressed with Anthony Beever’s The Fall of Berlin 1945. The story of the last days of the Reich as the Red Army drove toward Berlin, it’s a masterful tale of battle, politics, and malfeasance. If you don’t know much about the end of the war, you’ll learn a lot: the Nazis’ use of soldiers as young as 14; the incredible arrogance and obliviousness of Hitler, who still thought the war could still be won as the Russians approached the Brandenburg Gate; the terrible and unnecessary loss of civilians, considered cannon fodder by both the Russians and Germans; the pathos of Josef Goebbels and his wife, unwilling to let their six young children survive, giving them cyanide before shooting themselves. Beevers also describes the numerous rapes committed by Russian soldiers—crimes on a scale I hadn’t realized, and which were covered up by the Soviets during and after the war. (Beevers also reports on rapes by American soldiers.) I defy you to read this book without becoming more opposed to war in general. It was so compelling that I’ve started Beevers’ earlier book, Stalingrad: the Fateful Siege 1942-1943.
And this gets my vote for the best movie of 2009 and one of the best of the last few years: An Education. Based on a true story, directed by Lone Scherfig, and with a wonderful screenplay by author Nick Hornby, it’s a coming-of-age drama set in Twickenham, London in 1961. Jenny, played by Carey Mulligan, is an Oxford-bound 16-year-old whose academic plans are derailed by romance with a man twice her age. Mulligan’s performance is simply outstanding, and should have won her an Oscar; it’s far better than the winning but over-the-top “I’m-a-heroine”performance of Sandra Bullock in the manipulative Blind Side. The other actors also turn in superb performances, particularly the “older man,” played by Peter Saarsgard, and Jenny’s parents, played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour. Emma Thompson, one of my favorites, makes a cameo appearance as Jenny’s headmistress.
Really, this is a don’t-miss film.