Sunday, February 28, 2016

Review: The Fallen Angel

The Fallen Angel The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This installment of Gabriel Allon is one of the best. It ripples with intrigue, twists, and great characters. It mixes together the illicit antiques trade with Islamic terrorism in characteristic Silva style. It's hard to read these novels and not want to get on plane to Rome, Vienna, and Jerusalem.

The plot is at the same time far-fetched and incredible and scarily realistic. Allon gets the team back together yet again to stop an impeding terrorist attack and in the process they uncover something huge. I won't say what to avoid spoilers.

As always when I read an Allon novel I grew both hopeful and despondent. Despondent at the hatred, angry, and violence that exists; hopeful that maybe there are people like Allon, Lavon, and Pope Paul VII in the world.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review: Toleration

Toleration Toleration by Andrew Jason Cohen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andrew J. Cohen’s Toleration starts with the “aim to provide a clear and lively introduction to the issues surrounding toleration” (1). He successfully, in my view, achieves this aim. He grounds the concept of toleration historically in the history of western liberalism. Then, after a theoretical interlude, he presents several different principles that (might) ground and guide toleration. The most important of these is the Harm Principle. Cohen’s account of toleration, unsurprisingly, is rooted largely (and rightly in my view) in Mill’s On Liberty. He closes with an analysis of the general value and good of toleration. All in all, it is clear and it is lively; it is written, for the most part, in a direct and accessible way. So much so that this would make a great text for an introduction to political philosophy class.

I say “for the most part” above because there were a few sections that got bogged down in a bit. First, the theoretical section of chapter 2 seems to play more to a particular trend in professional political philosophy. The value of this chapter in relation to the rest of book was unclear to me. Second, Cohen’s discusses an argument for basing toleration on a principle of benefiting others (4B). This was the one section of the book I found hard to follow; the argument here being opaque. This might be much more to do with the difficulty of trying to articulate a view that is itself unclear than to a deficiency on Cohen’s part.

Cohen is careful to distinguish toleration from relativism, subjectivism, or non-judgmentalism. In fact, Cohen intends his view to be universal and it is based on a kind of objective morality. Moreover, the very idea or need for toleration depends on the prior fact of having judged someone (or his or her actions) to be objectionable.

The focus of the concept of toleration Cohen discusses is on non-interference. That is, we tolerate when have a principled reason for not interfering with someone else that we find in some way objectionable. This leaves open a question of whether or not toleration governs our interaction with others when it is not a matter of interference. That is, Shannon thinks that her co-worker Avi’s views about the treatment of animals to be deeply immoral. Assuming there is no issue of Shannon interfering with Avi, does toleration speak to how she might interact with Avi? Is she wrong to shun him? To refuse to participate in committees at work that Avi is a part of? I suspect Cohen’s answer on this front is that if it doesn’t involve a question of interfering with Avi, then it is a different kind of moral question than the one with which he is dealing. That seems right in a way, but at the same time, it makes sense to speak of Shannon not tolerating Avi.

Although relatively short (156 pp), Cohen’s book covers a lot of ground. It is a useful book for those interested in understand better the concept of toleration, its justification, its value, and its limits.

(Disclaimer of a sort: I organized and will be chairing an Author Meets Critics session for Cohen’s book at the 2016 Central APA meeting in Chicago, IL. More here:

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review: Dance Hall of the Dead

Dance Hall of the Dead Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this years ago in a college class on Detective Fiction. But since I've decided to read the Leaphorn series from the start and I barely remembered the plot, I reread this one. This is really the first Leaphorn novel, since in Blessing Way he is more of a secondary character. But here we see the full-blown detective. He is logical, patience, and precise. He is tapped into and understands the more mystical aspects of his culture, but it is not clear to what extent he accepts those beliefs. They are, it seems, just one more tool to help him understand and make sense of the crime he is trying to solve. The landscapes are beautifully described-- I find myself often going to google maps to look for the mesas and washes he talks about. The plot is good, though a bit predictable (that maybe me remembering aspects from previous readings though). Like Spenser, Leaphorn has a need, or rather an obligation of sorts, to rescue young people. Leaphorn in some ways fails, and one can see the weight of that failure on him. Yet, there is no despair here; just determination to continue.

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Review: Jubal Sackett

Jubal Sackett Jubal Sackett by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful continuation of the Sackett family. This one focuses on Jubal, one of Barnabas' sons. Jubal has gone west, eventually crossing the Mississippi and the Great Plains into the Rockies. There is a lot of wandering and pondering by Jubal punctuated by different battles with enemies he has picked up along the way. Much of the focus is on his relationship with the Native Americans. He respects them, but foresees the troubles that will be coming their way. L'Amour, though, recognizes the complexity of the Native American tribes and doesn't fall into the trap of the 'noble savage' or the 'white devil'. I wish L'Amour had lived to tell the story of Jubal's children. The next Sackett book jumps ahead to the 19th century and we never, to my knowledge, come back to the age of Barnabas and his sons.

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