Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Review: Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character Of Plato's "Republic"

Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character Of Plato's Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character Of Plato's "Republic" by David Roochnik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best books about ancient philosophy I have ever read. First, Roochnik is a clear writer and this work is eminently readable for an academic book. Second, his explanation of the structure and flow of the Republic is rich, deep, and fascinating. I’ve learned so much about the Republicthrough his book. He makes sense (or helps to make some sense) of many of the pickles I’ve discussed with my students (and friends) over the years about the arguments and theories in the Republic.

There are two main, general take-aways from Roochnik’s book. First, the Republicmust be read as an entirety. It is not a linear philosophical treatise in which we can move step by step through deductive arguments. We cannot isolate sections of it to focus only on that part of the argument. The parts and individual moments make the most sense when understood as part of the whole of the work.

Second, the recurring themes of the arithmetic and the erotic are central to understanding the interplay of the arguments and stories in the Republic. Roochnik shows how Plato moves through the dialectic of introducing the first arguments about the city and the soul, and the necessary city, in largely arithmetic terms but gets challenged by the Eros that Glaucon insists upon. This is revised and rebuilt mixing math and desire together—but this introduces new problems. This leads to new arithmetic means of explaining and dealing with these issues; only to be thwarted again by Eros. And so on, again and again. This interlay – dialogue if you will—is at the heart of understanding the movement through the dialogue.

I ask my students to consider what the purpose or ultimate point of the Republicis. Is it political; meant to defend a particular sort of regime? Is it primarily ethical; meant to defend the just life against the Thrasymachean claims of immoralism? Is it meant as a warning about democracy or as a qualified defense of democracy? Roochnik suggests, in my interpretation of his arguments, something a bit different: it is meant to present a picture of the human soul in action. The medium of the dialogue, the use of math and desire (philosophy and poetry), portray the complexity of human psychology, understanding, and engagement with the world.

I think this explains largely why the Republichas for so long and continues to be so central to philosophy. Why reads Plato 25 centuries later? Because it is so rich and deep, and has so much to tell us about ourselves. And Roochnik helps to show why this is so. His book breathes new life into discussions and to see the dialogue in a new, and clearer, light.

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Review: The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much like the first book in the trilogy, The Obelisk Gate is fresh and unique. It is unconventional in the way the story is told: the shifting perspectives and points of view. The characters avoid collapsing into stereotypical tropes. The plot is surprising. The world Jemisin builds is also so its own. She continues to develop it and add to it here. One problem with a sequel or trilogy is that the subsequent books take for granted the main characters--they become static. Jemisin is able to avoid this with Essun because she is learning, right along with the reader, about what is going on in his world. So she continues to grow. And there are new characters added that help keep things fresh and interesting.

The story is engaging and gripping; the mystery and magic of this world pulls you in. But there is also so much more going on here: the meaning and importance of relationships and love, the impact of social and ethnic differences, the problems and dangers of power, etc. A lot to chew on. But most importantly it is just an amazing and compelling story.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review: T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us

T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides UsT: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us by Carole Hooven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard Dr. Carole Hooven on Bari Weiss’s excellent podcast, Honestly, discussing aspects of this book and immediately downloaded it from Audible. Dr. Hooven does a masterful job of explaining the science of testosterone. Employing evolutionary biology, endocrinology, and good storytelling, Hooven lays out how testosterone works, why it works as it does it, and what the consequences are of all this. She does not eschew controversial subjects (and there are many when it comes to testosterone!) and is intellectually honest and confident enough to include discussion of the criticisms of, counters to, and gaps in her account.

The book is not too technical; though there is complex material here. Hooven’s style is more conversational and informal. This is not a medical treatise. There are lots of interesting anecdotes and stories; some personal drawn from Hooven’s own life, but this is not memoir either. She includes the stories of many other people (and animals too). All these serve to concretized the more abstract scientific theories.

In the end, Hooven’s goal is to present the best case for the best current science. Where a careful reading and understanding of the best evidence leads, Hooven follows—even if the conclusions are uncomfortable or not popular. She emphasizes, frequently, that it is only through an honest understanding of how testosterone works, that we can understand ourselves, our interactions with each other, and work to build a better society for all people.

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Review: Angels Flight

Angels Flight (Harry Bosch, #6; Harry Bosch Universe, #7)Angels Flight by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For fans of the Bosch TV show, this story is very familiar. The basic plot structure and idea where adapted for the fourth season. There are several important changes for the TV show to fit in with some of the overarching plot lines of the series, as well as to fit in with established characters on the TV series. In any case, the book is excellent.

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Sunday, September 05, 2021

Review: Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I wrote about the last book in the series, the series continues to be exciting and thrilling. The story telling is compelling, with just the right balance of world-building and action.

One of things that is great with this series is that each book introduces a net set of characters that drive the story. Holden and crew are important and still central of course, but Elvi, Basia, and Havelock are the protagonists here. They are the characters that grow and develop; the characters that have an arc the plot resolves. If the story always focused on Holden et al it wouldn't have held the readers attention for this long.

So book 4 is, like the whole series so far, a fun, thrilling sci-fi that explores questions about humanity, relationships, and existence. Highly recommend.

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