Saturday, December 31, 2022

Review: Star Wars: Victory’s Price

Star Wars: Victory’s PriceStar Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As with the first two books in the series, I am mixed on this book and the trilogy. I like it, but didn’t love it. There are many elements I really like but overall it just doesn’t come together for me. This puts me into an unusual position. I am typically the Star Wars fan defending Star Wars from (mostly unwarranted) criticism and here with a series that is widely praised and well-received, I’m being critical!

I suspect there is just something about the author’s style that puts me off since I have felt the same way about all three books. I find it takes me a bit to get into them, the books can be a bit of slog at certain points, particularly in the first halves, and they meander in ways I don’t think ultimate pays off or helps the story. And while by the end, I do care what happens to the characters and the story, I don’t get the emotional payoff I’d expect (and that many others seem to get).

I do like the characters; they are fresh. Not retreads of Star Wars types. They are all interesting in terms of how they come to Alphabet Squadron and what happens to them while there and how they change. At the same time, I never really warmed to them in the way I did, say with the Aftermath trilogy characters. I don’t always get a sense of what their motivations where or why; in some cases, these were just told to us rather than developed through the story. There was an emotional connection missing.

The themes of this book, and the series, are also thought-provoking. Forgiveness. Consequences for one’s actions. Morality for morally compromised situations. Reconciliation after war. What war does to people at a personal level. How soldiers relate to each other and to their enemy. Like the TV show, Andor (fantastic btw!), this series brings the war to a very personal level. It’s not grand battles, it’s individuals. And Freed shows us the points of view of both sides.

There is lot to explore here philosophically. I don’t think I the themes get resolved as well as they could, though. In part this is because the themes are sometimes too explicit or too on the surface. That is, rather than having the theme work out and resolve through the plot and character action, it is imposed through dialogue. That was less satisfying to me.

As I said, a lot of Star Wars fans love this series, and I do think it’s worth a read if you are a Star Wars fan.

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Monday, December 12, 2022

Review: A Purple Place for Dying

A Purple Place for Dying (Travis McGee #3)A Purple Place for Dying by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MacDonald's Travis McGee novels are such pulpy fun. The language, though dated, sexist, and otherwise political incorrect, has its own rhythm and poetry to it. McGee is somewhat the reluctant knight-errant. He describes himself as salvage expert; and that has three meanings. He lives on a houseboat in the Keys, so there is the maritime connection. But the main meaning is that he primarily makes his money by recovering wealth or goods for his clients (he keeps half of what is recovered). The deeper meaning is that, in each of the three stories I've read so far, McGee's real salvage work is the female protagonists. There is the element of knight-errant saving the damsel in distress; but MacDonald, though trading in sexist stereotypes of his time, does a good job of making sure the women have agency. There are not there merely to be saved; McGee helps them to get on a better path by showing them their own strength, and it is their own agency that gets them there.

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Sunday, December 11, 2022

Review: Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport

Greek Athletics and the Genesis of SportGreek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport by David Sansone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is made up of two essays. The first essay focuses on the origins of sport in general, while the second focuses on Ancient Greek athletics in particular; and as instance of the general theory Sansone proposes in the first essay.

Sansone starts by discussing various accounts of where sport came from, dismissing them before offering his own. He argues the roots of sport are to be found in distant human pre-history: in particular, rituals and rites engaged in for hunting among Paleolithic hunters. He argues that sport is a form of ritual sacrifice of human energy. As human cultures moved away from sole reliance on hunting as source of food, the rituals used by hunters persist, evolving into various cultural features, including sport. The energy used for the hunt shifts away from the hunt into other ritual behaviors. While there are some very interesting descriptions of various rituals and different cultural rites across cultures from all over the world, the argument is unpersuasive. First, there are key assumptions of motivations and explanations of pre-historic and ancient peoples that seem impossible to know with any measure of assurance. Why did the hunter bath before the hunt? There are various possible reasons, but so far removed how could we possibly know with any confidence? Second, the links between the rituals and sport is too speculative to establish more than interesting possible connections.

The second essay focuses on Ancient Greek athletics and how these too are rooted ultimately in the hunting ritual. The focus is really on aspects of athletics: why the Greeks engaged in sport naked, why they anointed themselves with oil, etc. There is not much in the way of trying to explain the origin of sport as such (I supposed Sansone takes himself as having established that in the first essay). Like the first essay, I found the discussion itself very interesting, in particular some of the striking similarities in disparate cultures, but I don’t think the overall argument is all that persuasive. What Sansone takes as having established with confidence still seems far more speculative. I think Sansone is correct that sport contains much that is rooted in pre-historic rituals; and that many of these ritual behaviors have been repurposed to fill some new needs. But he doesn’t discuss these needs that sport is meeting; why adopt these ritual behaviors, why put them to these new uses? Moreover, I don’t think Sansone answers the main questions he takes himself to be answering: why do humans engage in sport? Why has sport persisted through time and cultures? I am not sure we can ever know the answers to these questions. At one point, Sansone says “But people engage in sport today for the same reason they have always engaged in sport, namely because they have always engaged in sport” (56). It’s not much of answer, but it might just be the best we can get.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Review: Markets with Limits: How the Commodification of Academia Derails Debate

Markets with Limits: How the Commodification of Academia Derails DebateMarkets with Limits: How the Commodification of Academia Derails Debate by James Stacey Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is James Stacey Taylor's critique of Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski's Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests. I'm a big fan of B&J's book, notwithstanding some concerns I would make of aspects of their arguments. I've also followed Taylor's work, and was hoping for an interesting dialogue. Unfortunately, we don't get that. Some of Taylor's criticisms hit the mark, but I am unpersuaded by his deeper points. At times I think he's uncharitable and other times he seems to be misunderstanding them (the same could be said of some of B&J's criticisms of Taylor's book). There are important things Taylor brings up about scholarship and some of its problems, though I'm not convinced his diagnosis is accurate or that his prescription is warranted.

I edited an issue of Reason Papers which features a symposium of Taylor's book. Check it out here:

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Review: Slow Horses

Slow Horses (Slough House, #1)Slow Horses by Mick Herron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After watching the AppleTV+ series, I wanted to read the book on which it was based. I was surprised at just how close an adaption of the book the TV series was (especially after Apple's awful and disgraceful adaption of The Foundation). There are of course some minor changes, but for the most part the series follows the characters and plot of the book. It's impossible not to picture the actors from the show as you are reading, but that's fine. They are perfectly cast. I'm definitely going to read more of this series. I just hope to get ahead of the show!

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Review: Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics

Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, ScepticsHellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics by Anthony A. Long
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A.A. Long's classic work on Hellenistic Philosophy is a great primer for anyone looking to do a deep diver into the thinkers of this period. At times a bit dated, but otherwise the writing is clear and detailed. Long covers the main thinkers, but also gets into some of the secondary figures as well.

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Review: The Guilty

The Guilty (Will Robie, #4)The Guilty by David Baldacci
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Will Robie takes on a very different sort of challenge than he's used to. This is one is much more personal; but unsurprisingly Robie's special set of skills plays an important role in finding out just what is going on in his home town. Robie's return to his home town to help solve a mystery also leads to a mystery internally for Robie. The story is wonderfully told. Robie's a great character, and Baldacci is a master at what he does.

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