Sunday, December 31, 2023

Review: The Ethics of Sports Fandom

The Ethics of Sports FandomThe Ethics of Sports Fandom by Adam Kadlac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be posted a more thorough review of this book on The Sports Ethicist soon, so this will be short. Overall, I liked Kadlac's book. It is clearly written, free of jargon and doesn't get dragged down into minutia. It is well situated in the philosophy of sport literature on the various issues, but also personal and relatable. My main issues are that I don't think many of the arguments Kadlac makes work: that is, either I think the premises are inaccurate or the reasoning doesn't establish the conclusions he thinks they do. That said, Kadlac does a good job of balancing his arguments and conclusions with nuance and perspective: he is not dogmatic or intellectually arrogant. I'd recommend it to someone who's interested in philosophical and ethical issues related to being a sports fan. I also think it would be good as a text or supplemental resource for a class on those topics.

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Review: A Deadly Shade of Gold

A Deadly Shade of Gold (Travis McGee, #5)A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I continue to develop my love for this series. McGee is such a fascinating character: the knight-errant anti-hero type. He likes to think he prefers life on his boat, taking retirement in installments; but deep down he has a need to help heal the world one piece at a time. He's not out for justice, per se, but he does tend to set things right (or more right than they were) that have gone wrong.

This novel felt much more "noir" than earlier entries. It's darker and no one comes out better off than before(and many don't make out at all); but there is a kind of justice done.

McGee's cynicism (and thus underlying idealism) shines through here even more than in previous books. I think he's often a lot harsher than he needs to be when passing judgment on the 1960s American society; but there is truth in there as well. There is much McGee says that could easily be a comment on our current society and politics. In many ways, not much as changed. I think that though much in the novel is dated and of the 60s, the novels have lasting power because they are at core dealing with timeless issues.

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Review: The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by M. I. Finley

The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by M. I. Finley (1976-06-14)The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by M. I. Finley by Moses I. Finley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book covers the main features of the ancient Olympic games. It doesn't get into any great detail, but covers the site at Olympia, the history and development of the program, the spectators, and officials. The authors also cover the political aspects of the ancient games and contemporaneous criticisms of the games. There are several interesting things covered: in particular, the lack of amateur/professional dichotomy moderns are seemingly obsessed with, and the deeply intertwined relationship with ancient religious rituals. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered; in particular, why do the Olympics get and then maintain the prestige and prominence in the ancient world that they do? It's a short book, but worth the quick read for anyone interested in the history of the ancient Olympics.

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Friday, December 29, 2023

Review: Capitalism and the Jews

Capitalism and the JewsCapitalism and the Jews by Jerry Z. Muller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An interesting collection of essays about European Jewry and the rise of modern capitalism. It is neither an economic history of capitalism, nor a history of European Jewry, but it does capture snapshots of both. Covering the middle ages up through the twentieth century, Muller’s essays examine the role of antisemitism and how that affected the relationship of Jews to modern capitalism. He argues that earlier religious antisemitism (large rooted in Christian theology) lead to the restriction of employment by Jews to areas of trade and commerce; and then as modern capitalism grows, the Jewish overrepresentation in trade and commerce leads to new forms of antisemitism. Muller also explores the Jewish involvement in the major social movements of nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. He shows that Jews were overrepresented in most of these movements, not just socialism and communism as is the common stereotype. Indeed, Muller argues, that only a small minority of European Jews were ever supportive of the socialist movements. And in the movements, Jews were also always a small minority. But Jewish involvement was conspicuous and tended to reinforce older antisemitic stereotypes, and so these newer antisemitic tropes develop. In one of the more tragic ironies of the twentieth century is that Jews were regarded, by the socialist left, as being evil, rapacious capitalists, but then, on the right, as being the leaders of communist vanguard. Muller also looks at the rise of nationalism and how Zionism fits into that both as a form of nationalism and a response to European nationalism.

All the essays are clear and informative, exploring the contours of this history in interesting and often novel ways. The analysis is at a more general level; a ten-thousand-foot view if you will, rather than getting into any great detail. As such, this is a good starting place, rather than the only or final account, for understanding the complex relationships of capitalism, socialism, antisemitism, and Zionism.

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Monday, December 18, 2023

Review: The Dark Horse

The Dark Horse (Walt Longmire, #5)The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed returned to Wyoming with Longmire. The characters and setting are so well drawn and interesting. My one compliant is the unfolding of the mystery itself; I liked the back and forth of the time sequence. But Walt's solving of the mystery is kind of out of no where and then the details all get explained in the epilogue. The reveal could have been better drawn out. Also need more Standing Bear. The plot seemed vaguely familiar, as this was adapted, partially, for one of the TV series episodes.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Review: Career of Evil

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third novel in the Cormoran Strike series continues to demonstrate JK Rowling's mystery chops. This might be the darkest and most disturbing thing Rowling has written; the subject is grim and Rowling doesn't shy away from details and she's able to get into the mind of a truly evil and disturbed person. Cormoran and Robin's relationship continues to develop in interesting ways. The secondary characters, like Shanker and Wardle, grow in prominence as well. Matthew continues to be a wanker though.

I listened to the reading by Robert Glenister which is fantastic. His performance helps bring the book to life, especially with the accents.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Review: Last Shot (Star Wars): A Han and Lando Novel

Last Shot (Star Wars): A Han and Lando NovelLast Shot (Star Wars): A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun. The story moves quickly and is interesting. There are few nice twists. It gets a little confusing at certain points as the time frame jumps around. The author does a great job, I think, of capture Han and Lando's voices and character. It feels authentically Star Wars -- even without any force.

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Monday, November 27, 2023

Review: The Games: A Global History of the Olympics

The Games: A Global History of the OlympicsThe Games: A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Quite disappointing. There is some interesting and useful information; especially about the early games and the 19th century context that the Olympic revival comes out of. But as it gets further on; the book suffers. Frankly, it is probably trying to do and say too much in too little space. There is no overarching theme or narrative; no through line, that connects the chapters. There are some focal points; but these are not as well developed as they could be; and sometimes forced as the author tries to shoe horn in all the games of a specific time frame into the focus. But, as often as not, these focuses get lost in the details. The author tends to spend more time on the planners (and their backgrounds) than the games themselves. The latter half is almost entirely focused on the broader sociological and economic contexts of the host cities and games with very little discussed about the games themselves. There is only a tiny bit about Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, for example, when discussing the Summer Games in 2008. A good chunk of the Rio games is taken up by a discussion of the Brazilian presidential impeachment and surrounding scandals. Also, the closer to our own era we get, the more the authors particular political biases come through, muddying the analysis.

The subtitle of the book is the “A Global History of the Games” but it is not at clear what is particularly global about this history. Obviously, it is global, since the Olympics is global, but beyond that, I am not sure what they are trying to get at with that.

There is also a kind of elitist aesthetics expressed throughout. Inevitable, Olympic projects, such as buildings, slogans, or mascots, are described as kitschy, banal, vacuous, or ugly. There is a lot of sneering at the consumerism around the Olympics—which seems to run counter to the author’s concerns about the IOC’s long history of clinging to 19th century amateurism.

There are some errors as well; the most egregious being when he inexplicably labels the Christian identity nationalist, Eric Rudolph, the terrorist responsible for the Atlanta Olympics pipe bomb, a libertarian.

Overall the author’s cynicism and elitism get in the way of the valid criticisms of Olympic projects. As this and other histories show, there are many problems and criticisms to be made, but this work doesn’t do the work necessary to develop these, explain why they are concerns, or offer much in the way of alternatives. In most cases, the reality of the games is implicitly compared to some unstated majestic and idyllic system where the Olympics could take place without these problems.

Furthermore, as critical as the author is of the vision of Coubertin’s Olympics, the author actually seems to in a way share this utopian vision of pure sport. But since the reality of the Olympics can never live up to this vision; it gets lots of righteous scorn and rhetorical sneering.

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Review: The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World

The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent WorldThe Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World by Dan Senor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Israel is a small country facing tremendous obstacles. It is threatened and attacked by well-funded genocidal enemies. Meanwhile the international community, such as it is, is ambivalent at best and internally, Israel is regularly rocked by protests and religious and ethnic divisions. Yet, Israel, according to various international metrics, is one of the happiest countries. This apparent paradox is what Dan Senor and Saul Singer have set out to explain.

Looking at the different parts of Israeli society, they try to find out what makes Israel resilient and happy in the face of the many challenges it faces. This is what they mean by the “Genius of Israel”: how it is able to deal so successfully with its unique challenges as well as the problems afflicting most of the rest of the wealthy, liberal democracies. The short answer is that Israelis share a collective meaning and purpose, with a sense of community cementing that meaning and purpose.

This ties together much of what they look at: the educational system, the military, the tech sector, the family, the sabbath, and the regional historical connections. They explore the ways these elements all connect to, create, and reinforce that purpose and community.

They also look at the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) and Israeli Arab communities. While outliers in many ways, they also share some of the features that create that purpose and community. They point out how Israel has to do better by these two groups by incorporating them more into the mainstream. But they also show the ways that this integration is being driven internally in these communities.

All in all, an informative and engaging exploration and explanation of Israeli society. Important to read to understand Israel.

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Thursday, November 23, 2023

Review: Damascus Station

Damascus StationDamascus Station by David McCloskey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed, but didn't love, this spy thriller; it had an authentic feel and the plot was engaging. I really liked, or rather found interesting, some of the characters, though the central protagonist was somewhat weak. I just didn't connect to him or really get a sense of his character. The supporting characters around him where far more rich and well drawn. I cared far more for these characters than I did for Samuel. The book does a good job of showing the pressure and sense of being trapped that many must feel in a regime such as Syria's. The kind of compromises one has to struggle with just to survive. I thought it also dramatized the conflict many have between being loyal to one's country while watching the regime destroy it from within. So overall a good read.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Review: Traitor's Blade

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a delightful discovery. I don't recall who recommended this to me or how it came into my to-read pile, but thank you! A fresh story that is exciting, thoughtful, and funny. It has a good heart; the characters are interesting. It has twists and turns, keeps you on your toes, from the first to the last words. The writing is crisp and the storytelling is intricate without being baroque. de Castell spins a dark, corrupt world but rests the story on hope and honor. I'm hooked.

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Sunday, November 05, 2023

Review: The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity

The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish IdentityThe Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity by Micah Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating examination of the complex nature of Jewish identity. In particular, Goodman is focused on the various strands of Judaism and Jewishness that are within Israeli culture. Though primarily focused on Israeli Jewishness, it is rooted in the long intellectual and religious traditions of the Jewish People: from Beit Hillel in the Second Temple period to Maimonides to the 19th and 20th century religious and secular thinkers. I very much appreciate the insight Goodman brings into Jewish and Israeli thought; sharing with the reader many ideas that normally are not accessible (because they are in Hebrew).

The main idea Goodman starts with is that within Israel—and because its Israel, the Jewish national homeland—there are new ways of being Jewish developing. Just as older forms developed in response to the tensions and conditions of the world they were in, being Jewish in Israel is evolving and responding to pressures and tensions in Israel. These include the interaction of tradition and modernity; community and individualism; authority and liberty.

Many know that Israel seems to be divided into two camps: religious and secular. Goodman argues this oversimplifies things. Within each camp there are further divisions, divisions that mirror each other in the other camps. That is, there is a more strident, religious camp that holds fast to the religious laws and traditions as expressed in orthodoxy. This is mirrored in the secular camp by the strident secularists who reject and forswear religious tradition and learning. But as well, each camp has what Goodman calls “alternative” movements. There are religious Zionists who are interested in the more open and dynamic aspects of modern life. This is mirrored by the secularist Zionists who are interested in connecting to the richness of Jewish tradition. The religious are not secularizing: they are not compromising or losing faith. And the secularists are not becoming religious: they want to enrich and deepen their secularism by connecting with the ideas and texts of the tradition.

His main argument is that these alternative threads are, or are potentially, forming a more balanced, middle way of Israeli Judaism.

Goodman argues that that these threads, the alternative and mainline ones, have long pedigrees in Jewish history and roots his analysis in those traditions. This history deals with, in its own ways relative to its time period, the problems and tensions of tradition and modernity; community and individualism; authority and liberty. As such, there is much to learn about how these alternative stands in contemporary Israeli society might deepen and expand: enriching Israeli society, but also Jewish culture worldwide.

And this can move beyond the Jewish world as well. The lesson is that if one is religious, they can enrich their faith with modern ideas and ideals without losing their religion; and if one is not religious, they can enrich their connections and community by exploring and learning about their traditions without having to submit to the authority of the tradition. This helps, as Goodman argues, to balance many of the tensions and values of modern life. That is, at least, the hope Goodman leaves us; and it is one I share. As a secular Jew, who loves learning about the tradition but is not likely to be observant, many aspects of Goodman’s discussion appealed to me deeply. Lastly, it is wonderfully written: clear and approachable even while condensing and articulating complex theological, philosophical, and sociological ideas.

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Thursday, November 02, 2023

Review: Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders' Dreams?

Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders' Dreams?Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders' Dreams? by Daniel Gordis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2023 is the 75th year of Israel’s re-founding. In May 1948, the leaders of the Jewish community declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” was read aloud by David Ben-Gurion. Broadcasted live on the radio, the text of the declaration was also sent out to the world’s media.

Daniel Gordis takes the ideas and principles expressed in this declaration, unpacks them, and asks how well the state has lived up to the vision expressed by the founding generation of Zionists in this momentous document.

This ingenious method of exploration Israel’s 75 years of modern statehood allows Gordis to focus in on some of the central questions about Zionism and the rationale for a Jewish State as well as the achievements and failures of Israel. By exploring the meaning of the founding principles and visions, and then looking at how Israeli society, culture, and governance have either met and surpassed that vision, or have at times fallen short of those principles, we get a clear set of themes and standards to consider and evaluate.

Gordis provides a balanced approach, one that pulls few punches in criticizing Israel when appropriate. He does not shy away from pointing out the internal tensions in the founders’ visions and principles, and the sometimes inconsistency of the application. This allows Gordis to also express his profound love and admiration for the breathtaking achievements of Israel’s 75 years.

This is a wonderful book that helps reiterate the purpose and need for Israel, as well as understanding Israel within the context of its founding purposes. Reading this after the pogrom of Oct 7 and subsequent explosion of world-wide antisemitism was heartening and reaffirming.

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Sunday, October 29, 2023

Review: The Overlook

The Overlook (Harry Bosch, #13; Harry Bosch Universe, #17)The Overlook by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic Bosch; tight plotting, action driven. This was used as the basis for Season 6 of the tv show; so I roughly knew the plot but it is so well-crafted that it is still thrilling and exciting. Unlike several of the previous Bosch novels, there is less self-reflection and, for lack of better phrase, deep thoughts. It takes place over roughly twelve hours and so is primarily all chase.

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Monday, October 23, 2023

Review: The Fallen Star

The Fallen Star (Star Wars: The High Republic)The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the Light of the Jedi trilogy might be the best, but it still has some flaws. Claudia Gray gives us much better action and character growth than previous installments. Still, I found it hard to connect to the characters -- in particular the Jedi. I like Bell and found Elzar compelling but the others seemed far too much like place holders. Some of the supporting characters were interesting, but there was just not enough focus on a single set of characters to really develop them enough. Ro is an interesting villain, but he's out of the main action for the most part. Still Gray's writing improved the series tremendously: the pacing, the action, the plot were all much better than the previous books.

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Friday, October 13, 2023

Review: The Silkworm

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second novel in the Cormoran Strike series. Rowling (Galbraith is her pseudonym) follows up the first novel with a another great mystery. It kept me guessing until the very end! She does a great job with the plot and characters. She introduces several unique and interesting characters here; each with their own voice. Cormoran and Robin make a great team and I'm glad to see their relationship and connection grow in the way that it has.

Like the first novel, I listened to this and the narration is great. The reader does a great job of capturing the story and conveying the characters.

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Review: From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi

From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi (From a Certain Point of View, #3)From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed these stories so much. They add such context and flavor to the Star Wars world. That said, this one was not as good as the first two. Some of the stories were a bit of stretch in terms of their connection to the movie. So many involved the same trope of a flashback that was not related to the movie itself. And I thought there were some stories that were missing: namely a story about Captain Rex and how he ended up on the Endor mission. A Hera story would have be good too.

Still, there were some great stories that enrich the movie, the story, and the Star Wars world. Some of the stories were quite sad, e.g. The Ballad of Nanta. Others were funny or just plain weird. The sarlacc story was both of those. The Max Rebo story was not one of my favorites but I liked how the story itself had a rhythm. "Brotherhood" was poignant. The Sidious story was chilling. One of my favorites was "The Key to Remembering" about one of Jabba's droids. The idea that sentience was connected to memory was quite interesting (and points out of the leitmotifs of Star Wars: memory of the past and hope for the future).

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Review: The Wanted

The Wanted (Elvis Cole, #17; Joe Pike, #6)The Wanted by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not my favorite Cole/Pike novel, but it was fast-paced and entertaining.

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Monday, September 04, 2023

Review: All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1)All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In my final assessment, I am glad I read this book. I didn’t love it; but it did grow on me. The language has a haunting beauty to it and there are some fascinating moments and provoking conversations. But I found the first 30 pages or so confusing and meandering. McCarthy is somewhat careless with pronoun antecedents so it was hard to follow who was saying what to whom. The story didn’t feel like it was going anywhere in particular; just two young guys riding down to Mexico for adventure. But once they get settled into Mexico, it picks up and gets more interesting. The Great-Aunt is a wonderful character and some of the best moments of the book are between her and Grady. Many of the lines one sees quoted from the book come from their conversations: “between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.”

The plot doesn’t really have much of through-line and there’s almost no plot-theme to speak of. Worse, there is the occasional deus ex machina when things start to bog down. Other than Grady and the aunt, the characters and their motivations are somewhat thin.

The book is worth reading though I think it is over-hyped. It is not the greatest American novel nor do I think it is innovative or ambitious as some critics claim. It’s a bit more violent and pensive than a Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour, but otherwise not all that different.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Review: The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don'tThe Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really got into this book. Galef's presentation style is clear. Although in some ways this is a 'self-help' book with tips and suggestions for improving one's mindset, she does a great job of balancing that with the conceptual framework, explanation, and justification of the mindset. She avoids the pitfalls of some self-help books which oversell their advice and make their advice all-encompassing. After all, that would be soldier mindset!

In many ways, there is nothing knew here. The basic idea is to avoid motivated reasoning and other cognitive biases so that one can get an accurate and objective picture of themselves and their world. But instead of just saying those biases are bad, don't do them, Galef explains why we so often fall into the trap and how we can work to create a mindset that makes it easier to avoid them. This is where the solider vs scout mindset comes. I love this metaphor: it worked right away in mind for making sense of this.

The soldier's job is defense and protection (and offensive as well). As a mindset, this becomes a matter of defending our beliefs or persuading others. This mindset develops to protect ourselves and those we love from harm; from false or wrong ideas. However, it can often lead to motivated reasoning (as well as other biases) in order to serve that protection. And this can actually undermine that goal--because it can lend itself to evasion and avoidance of realty and hard truths.

The scout on the other hand is sent out to survey the landscape, get the lay of the land. Their mission is one built on getting the most accurate understanding of the landscape one faces (exactly where is the bridge? where are the enemy positions? etc). Hoping the bridge is where you think it is doesn't make sense: you have to go and look where it is and make sure. As a mindset, this translate to a commitment to accuracy and the search for truth. Motivated reasoning doesn't make much sense here: if the goal is accuracy, we need to be focused on arriving on the truth as best we can. If we are motivated by some state of affairs to be true we can be blinded by that and miss the actual state of affairs. We'd fail as scouts.

That's the basic difference and from that Galef explains ways on how to foster and encourage a scout mindset. I found it very useful; and I've already felt the difference it is making on my approach to things.

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Friday, August 25, 2023

Review: The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics

The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized EthicsThe Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics by Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating book! I was fully engaged throughout listening to it. The author does a good job, I think, of balancing the philosophical and the biographical. And the philosophical is handled well: I am familiar with Foot and Anscombe’s work and I don’t think there were any egregious errors or missteps. Moreover, I think a reader not as familiar would be able to get a handle on the ideas as discussed here.

While I knew that Foot and Anscombe were associates, I had no idea the depth and intimacy of the relationships between the four women on which the book focuses: Philippa Foot, G.E.M. Anscombe, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. That these women were not only at Oxford around the same time, but were friends and intellectual interlocuters sort of blew my mind. A convergence of brilliance and ability like one rarely sees. The author details their friendships, but also the ways in which they intellectually influenced each other.

I am most familiar with Foot, having read much of work of the years. I have read little of Anscombe outside of the few works in moral philosophy she wrote. I was familiar with Murdoch, though never really read any of her work. And Midgley, I was only vaguely aware of the name. However, after reading this work, I ordered Midgley’s Beast and Man and hope to get to it sooner rather than later. She sounds like she pulls together many of the insights of Foot and the others in some promising ways.

I was also fascinated by the intellectual life of Oxford at this time. First, the depth of the education these women received is amazing – I am so jealous! What it took to get into Oxford and then proceed through successfully sounds incredibly challenging but also rewarding. Second, the seriousness with which intellectual life was treated came through and also makes me jealous!

These thinkers and their ideas should be more front and center in the philosophical world. They still are on the margins, but their insights continue to inspire and influence.

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Sunday, August 13, 2023

Review: Echo Park

Echo Park (Harry Bosch, #12; Harry Bosch Universe, #16)Echo Park by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the fascinating things about reading the Bosch stories after the TV show is noticing the way it diverges. Not just in terms of plot details (Several aspects of this book were adapted for Season 1), but also characters. Irvin Irving is the biggest difference: the TV show changes the character almost entirely. But Bosch is more reckless, more of a loose cannon/lone wolf in the books. That's there in the Welliver Bosch, but he's a bit more composed on the show.

The book is great; as exciting, and as fast a read as Connelly typically produces. The dialogue is pithy and witty. The story dives into some of the darkness of the human soul; but it also its light. I particularly liked the metaphor of the dog you feed: there is a good dog and bad dog in each of us, and who you become is partly a matter of which you choose to feed. How very Aristotelian!

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Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Review: Scythe

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shusterman has a produced an original and compelling story about a world where humanity has conquered mortality. The Scythe exist to keep the population levels under control, performing regular "gleanings" of the population. The story follows two teenagers chosen to be trained as Scythe apprentices. The story raises deep and important questions about the meaning of life, the role of mortality in being human, and the importance of moral character, especially how to maintain one's character while wielding incredible power.

The author does a good job of balancing these heady existential questions with the action of the story and the world-building. The world he creates is all-too familiar, but utterly foreign as well. At nearly every point where I though I knew where the story was going and it seemed in danger of becoming trite, Shusterman throws you are curve that keep things fresh. For a book about death and killing, it could still be funny and sweet.

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Review: Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #1)Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zahn does a tremendous job of capturing the original trilogy characters while introducing some interesting new ones. Obviously the most important is Thrawn. I came to know Thrawn first through Rebels and then Zahn's new (canon) Thrawn trilogies. The original Thrawn shares with his canon version his incredible tactical and strategic mind, his art-influenced deep insight into alien cultures, and his cool, logical approach to all things. The original Thrawn, though, is clearly a bad guy; a true heir to the empire. The canon Thrawn, though working with the Empire, seems more morally ambiguous. I suspect the Ahsoka series will bring in more of the "bad guy" Thrawn.

I was underwhelmed by Mara Jade. Given the attention the fandom gives her, I was expecting more. She came off as far too bitter and petty; though extraordinarily capable and intelligent. I presume her character gets more developed in the subsequent books.

Talon Karrde was fun; a classic honorable thief type. The ysalamiri are intriguing, though I doubt they'd make into the new canon.

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Review: The Collector: A Novel

The Collector: A NovelThe Collector: A Novel by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed the newest Gabriel Allon novel. There are many things I love about these novels. One, though, is the way Silva tells stories. I love the sort of quasi-past tense: the way he sets up a scene from some future perspective, but also has it unfolding for the reader in the present time sequence of the book. The second thing I love is the quick-witted dialogue and repartee of the characters. Lastly, the intricate plotting and the way in which Silva always manages to work into the story art restoration as well as character restoration.

That said, as much I loved the book, it is not without some flaws. There are some plot elements that I thought were a bit rushed. The story too quickly moves away from the art element into the spy operation, and only briefly comes back to it. While several members of Allon's team are part of the story, they are not all that integral to the story. And the new characters introduced are not as developed as is usually the case. Personally I would like stories with more of an Israel flavor to them--although the focus here is quite timely and engaging.

I wonder if Silva might consider doing some spin-off novels, one's that take a secondary character and give it primary billing. A Mikhail focus novel or a Christopher and Sarah adventure. I think that could help breathe some fresh air into the series.

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Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's Pastime

A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's PastimeA Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's Pastime by Joe Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this cool little book from Joe Kelly and Rob Bradford. While nothing terribly insightful or groundbreaking, it is an authentic love letter to the game of baseball. Partly a memoir of Kelly's life in baseball, from t-ball to pro ball, it includes Kelly's reflections on the state of the game today and what he thinks it needs, as the title claims, to reclaim it's honored place as America's pastime. He discusses his run-ins with MLB brass and surprisingly productive meetings with commissioner, Rob Manfred. The last third of the book includes contributions from many other ball players and managers. From Mookie Betts and JD Martinez to Terry Francona and David Ross, and many more, we get a first hand perspective from those that have played the game on why they love the game. This book will speak to anyone who loves baseball.

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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review: The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern WorkThe Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work by Joanne B. Ciulla
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in and at times frustrated with this book. While there is a lot interesting and useful – Ciulla traces the history of the meaning of work through time as well as laying out various theories of work and management ideas – I found it somewhat one-sided, platitudinous, and over-generalized. (Though obviously not the author's fault, it is is a bit of date as well.)

While Ciulla is by no means anti-work, anti-business, or anti-markets, there is an ideological flavor, shall we say, in much of the book. There are few philosophers or economists referenced that offer heterodox views of the sociological, economic, or moral claims asserted. In this way, the book is rather uncritical of its own claims, even as the author does catalog a range of views of work and life.

The paradox of a study like this is that it tries to draw from a wide range of views and takes on ‘work’, across time, but in so doing it tends to become somewhat superficial. There is this view, and there is that view, and then this other view. As the author acknowledges, “work” covers a lot of different activities and comes with a multitude of attitudes and views about it. Many of these are contradictory. And so in trying to something about ‘work’ it tends towards the superficial. Work is important, work is unimportant. Work is primary, work is secondary. Work is a source of meaning, work is destructive of meaning.

At its best, the book does challenge one to think more about the concept of work, the meaning of work in our lives, and the role it plays (or ought to play) in our lives. It’s just that it wasn’t often at its best.

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Review: Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World

Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean WorldReligion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn S. Holland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is sweeping overview of the various religious traditions and ideas of the ancient Mediterranean. Holland covers Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Israelite, Greek and Roman religions, and then early Christianity. For each area, Holland sets up the various historical, archeological, and political contexts. Holland also finds ways to connect each of these periods/areas to each other, but without overdoing it either (he doesn't try to create some grand narrative, he's more or less pointing out similarities and differences and possible points of influence).

The course is quite useful as a general survey. Anyone looking for in-depth analysis, dissection, or critical analysis will be disappointed. But this is generally the case with Teaching Company courses. They are great surveys, giving you the context of knowledge to then dive deeper on your own. This course is the same: Holland's course provides the basis for one to pursue further research in any of these areas. But it is also good for someone who is just looking for the 10000 foot view.

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Sunday, July 09, 2023

Review: Tiamat's Wrath

Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The penultimate book in this nine book series is action packed. Many of the earlier ones took a little bit to get going, but this felt like it jumped right back into the action of Book 7 and just kept running. I liked the POV changes between chapters that overlapped, giving the book a bit more frenetic pace while also signaling the simultaneity of various elements of the story.

One of the interesting leitmotifs of this book is the question of how to resist tyranny both ethically and authentically. What strategies are most appropriate and how do you go about these without losing who you are?

I can't wait to read Book 9, but I am sad to come to the end. These characters are so vivid and so well drawn, they live in my head for a long time after I finish the books.

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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Review: Titan's Day

Titan's Day (The Carter Archives #2)Titan's Day by Dan Stout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The follow up to Titanshade delivers the same engaging characters and setting. It's a unique mash-up of genres: part noir, part detective, part fantasy, part sci-fi. Stout's world building is subtle and interesting. The world is just familiar enough so as not to require lengthy exposition, but alien enough to make it interesting and novel. Readers of Michael Connelly's Bosch will see a lot of Bosch in Carter: the commitment to the murder victim; the belief that everybody counts, even in the face of an uncaring and sometimes corrupt bureaucracies.

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Sunday, June 18, 2023

Review: Robert B. Parker's Blood Feud

Robert B. Parker's Blood Feud (Sunny Randall, #7)Robert B. Parker's Blood Feud by Mike Lupica
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the Sunny Randall series and how Parker explored how the "machismo" code that Spenser lived by could be applied to a woman. I was a skeptical about Lupica taking over, but I think he did a competent job. There are definitely things that off; things that remind you that this isn't Parker. The depth of insight, the clarity of the prose, and quick wit are not quite to even a mediocre Parker level. But I enjoyed the book and the story; it was nice to live again with the regular cast of characters from the Spenser-verse.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Review: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book III: Lesser Evil)Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of the three books in the Ascendancy trilogy, I liked this one the best. It brings to conclusion many of the various themes and plot lines of the earlier books. It doesn’t get as deep into the family/palace intrigue that the first did (which I didn’t care as much for). There is more focus on Thrawn and his allies and how they resolve the crisis that has been growing since the first book. I really like the way this triology raises the question about how different peoples interact with, use, and relate to the Force. It also sets up more of how and why Thawn ends in in the Empire, though I find there still is something of a disconnect for me. Thrawn is so competent, so intelligent, and really basically good, it can be a bit incongruent that he allies himself with the Empire (even if it is for the ulterior motive of serving the Ascendancy). It’ll be interesting to see the Thrawn we get in the Ahsoka series and if that helps to shed some more light on this.

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Monday, May 29, 2023

Review: The Fallen Man

The Fallen Man (Leaphorn & Chee, #12)The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Leaphorn and Chee is much more of a classic mystery story. That is, many of Hillerman's stories revolve around a crime that juxtaposes the White Man's way of live with the Navajo way of life. But The Fallen Man doesn't really do this: there is a mystery that needs solving and the detectives work to solve it. Interestingly the cultural conflict, so to speak, is between the Navajo characters and how each of them adapt to contemporary life. As with all of Hillerman's books, the descriptions and immersion into this world are beautiful.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Review: How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well

How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living WellHow to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well by Catherine Wilson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After listening to a podcast interview with Wilson about this book, I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, it was quite disappointing. I found it superficial both in its explication of Epicureanism and its application to contemporary life. There was little insight about Epicureanism or how to apply it to one’s life today. With the title of How to Be an Epicurean, I expected it to be “self-helpy” but I didn’t expect it to be as trite and insipid as the worst of the self-help genre.

Though each chapter starts with epigraphs of quotations from Epicurus and Lucretius, there is not a lot inside the chapters that connects directly to their writings. There is almost no way for the reader to check Wilson’s assertions about what Epicureanism says. There are no footnotes to indicate the sources. There is an appendix with quotations but there is no indication how these connect to the text itself. I get this is not a scholarly work, but this is a serious flaw and weakens Wilson’s analysis and presentation since it can be hard to tell where Epicurus ends and Wilson’s interpretation and views begins.

The application of Epicureanism to contemporary life is unfortunately as superficial.. Wilson frequently uses the rhetorical device of “The Modern Epicurean believes” but it is not at all clear to whom this refers or how the claims made in the guise of the Modern Epicurean connect to Epicureanism proper. It is hard to not to conclude that The Modern Epicurean is just Wilson and her views of how to think about the various contemporary issues regardless of how well these views cohere or not with ancient Epicureanism.

There are few caveats to my disappointment and criticism that might not apply to other readers. First, I’m a professional philosopher and this book is clearly pitched to a general readership, not those trained in philosophy. Second, I regularly teach Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, and so while no expert on Epicureanism, it’s fair to say I’m quite familiar with Epicureanism. It might be that as a general introduction to Epicureanism, this is a good starting point for those with no background in the subject and that Wilson provides a spur to further interest in Epicureanism. However, the flaws I discuss here probably undermine it being that spur.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Review: On Target

On Target (Gray Man, #2)On Target by Mark Greaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Greaney writes a fun action packed thriller. Court is an intriguing character, with a lot of room for development of the character. He's still a bit wooden and thin: but there is potential here for a great anti-hero type. The story here takes some interesting and even unexpected turns. It's outrageous and unrealistic in ways, but that's par for the genre (and part of the fun). It's a quick and fun summer read.

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Saturday, May 06, 2023

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Rowling's first foray into the detective genre. The mystery is well constructed. As with the Potter series, Rowling does a great job of characterization through dialogue, description, and action. This definitely is not Potter, but it is definitely Rowling. It is clearly her style and humor.

I listened to the audio version, which I think is the way to go. The reader is English and so the slang and dialogue are more authentic than whatever voice my brain would have given it.

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Review: Anaximander: And the Birth of Science

Anaximander: And the Birth of ScienceAnaximander: And the Birth of Science by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye at the bookstore; the title and description were right up my alley. I cover the Milesians in my ancient philosophy course, so I was interested to see what Rovelli’s take would be. The overall thesis is that Anaximander introduces into humanity two main ideas at the central core to science: a willingness to question every tenet, no matter its source, and the demand to put the answer in naturalistic terms. After explaining how Anaximander does this, Rovelli proceeds to show the importance and influence of these key ideas. The latter gets a bit too general, mostly because it is very broad over of the history of science. There was little new or insightful in these chapters. The connection that Rovelli draws back to Anaximander is pretty thin.

Rovelli’s presentation of Anaximander and some of the other pre-Socratics is pretty good. He also does some basic comparisons with civilizations in China, Babylon, and Egypt. However, in terms of trying to establish his claim that Anaximander was doing something novel and not done before, Rovelli needed to do some more of this kind of comparison.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rovelli’s account is his discussion of how Miletus, at the intersection of several different cultures, made these important scientific and philosophical advances. The decentralized nature of the Greek world at this time while also being in contact with the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian cultures gave Miletus the soil in which these new approaches could flourish.

The book is approachable and well-written. I think Rovelli does a good job of telling the history of science; though anyone already familiar with this material will likely not find much new.

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Friday, April 28, 2023

Review: What's the Use of Philosophy?

What's the Use of Philosophy?What's the Use of Philosophy? by Philip Kitcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this brief book, Kitcher offers his take on what is wrong with the discipline of philosophy and what he thinks it needs to do to fix itself.

I think Kitcher nails many of the ongoing problems in academic philosophy: the over-formalization, the reliance on intuition and thought experiments, the superficial understanding of other disciplines (in particular science), to name a few. Another focus of his criticism is that the discipline sees itself as having a core, namely metaphysics and epistemology, that gets all the prestige, leaving the peripheral to be neglected. While I think he’s correct in broad strokes, I’m not as persuaded that these pathologies, as he calls them, are quite as ubiquitous as he suggests. He captures some general trends, but it is not clear how deep or far these go. Kitcher himself acknowledges that since he first starting working on this project, the discipline moved in more positive directions.

Two things he doesn’t mention, or barely mentions, are (1) the teacher-researcher split and (2) the prestige of stardom.

In the last chapter, he does raise the teacher-research split; but I think he’s missing the important shift in higher ed towards large parts (and majority parts) of the faculty being teaching faculty instead of research focused faculty. I think his thesis might be interesting to explore in terms of how teaching philosophy is different than being focused on cutting-edge research. The former tends to fit more his view of the direction philosophy should take: syncretic, tied into practical concerns, and with an eye towards the audience. It will typically avoid most of the formalist and technical pathologies he’s concerned with, since the classes are not pitched at that level.
In terms of (2) above, there is far too much prestige given to the big names, the big programs, and the big journals. This feeds a lot of the problems he discusses. This is general academic problem, not peculiar to philosophy. (Indeed, it might even be somewhat better in philosophy as things go.) Still, if the concern is on how to cure the pathologies, there has to be some focus on one of the major causes of these pathologies.

My biggest disagreements with Kitcher lie in his positive project. It’s far too based on (philosophical) pragmatism and a bit too focused on the extrinsic value of what philosophy does. There is a value of philosophy that is more internal: that is, it has value that is not based on how it contributes to the university and other disciplines. And I think Kitcher dismisses that too quickly. That said, the syncretic, less formalistic, more practical approach is appealing to me. I just don’t want that to be it. There is a great value in diving deeply into the details. There is a great value of streaming to the 10000-foot view. We need both. The latter is not as well value in the discipline, but it’s not a zero-sum game where valuing the syncretic, big picture view means devaluing the analytical, minute focus.

The book is quick and easy to read. It likely wouldn’t interest any not in the field, though other academics might find it interesting to look inside another discipline.

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Review: Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars

Star Wars Jedi: Battle ScarsStar Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the novel and it's gotten me all prepped for the new game. It was action packed and developed the characters and relationships from the game. There are two things that I might complain about. First, there was a lot of inner dialogue talk by the characters that could have been better developed through the characters actions (the old 'show me, don't tell' me saw). Second, while there is character development, it is relatively minor. Cal is who is he is. Merrin gets the most development and in many ways the book is far more about Merrin than any one else. Which is fine, I like Merrin and her story, but that's not really how the book is presented.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Review: Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness

Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of DarknessFreedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness by Timothy Sandefur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic book. Sandefur does a masterful job of explaining the importance of these three remarkable women: Isabel Patterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand. He takes their ideas seriously, pulls no punches but is also exceedingly fair and charitable in his accounting of their ideas, works, and personalities.

I knew vaguely that Patterson, Lane, and Rand knew each other, but I had no inkling of the depth of the connections between them: personal connections as well intellectual and ideological. All three wrote important and influential works in the mid-20th century. Though Rand is likely best-known today, Patterson and Lane were important voices for (economic, intellectual, and personal) liberty and freedom in a time when then were few such voices. Patterson is best known today for God of the Machine and her decade’s long column at the New York Herald Tribune; and Lane for her work The Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority and the Little House series she wrote with her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though the three had important differences, together they provided a robust vision and defense of moral individualism and human freedom.

One of the most surprising things I learned is the role Sinclair Lewis played in the development of the work of all three writers. Sandefur explores how Lewis’ novels, as well as other works that formed what is called the “Revolt from the Village” literary movement provided by the inspiration and the foil for the novels of Patterson, Lane, and Rand. This movement challenged the conformity and oppressiveness of small town life, and arguably culminated in Lewis’ Main Street. Sandefur persuasively argues that Patterson, Lane, and Rand shared the concerns that works of the revolt focused on, but that they offered more optimistic and positive ways beyond what Lewis called the “village virus."

Sandefur’s book is a bit hard to categorize: it’s part biography, part literary criticism/analysis, part political history, and part intellectual history. How ever you categorize it, it’s a remarkable achievement and anyone with any interest in American history of the 20th century or the history of intellectual ideas should read this book. It should be a touchstone for any scholar thinking about the ideas of Patterson, Lane, or Rand.

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Monday, April 17, 2023

Review: Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to FoucaultPhilosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault by Pierre Hadot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of essays by Pierre Hadot was mixed. Hadot is clearly deeply knowledgeable about ancient and modern philosophy, history, and literature. He brings this knowledge to bear on his discussions of the purpose of philosophy. I certainly learned a lot reading it. However, I didn’t find his overall argument persuasive.

Hadot has two main goals. First is to argue that philosophy, in the ancient period in particular, was primarily meant as a way of life, a distinctive, all-encompassing approach to living. He claims that most of the written works we have capture more of what he calls philosophical discourse, and not philosophy itself. These discourses are meant to train one in the transformative methods of living that constitute what philosophy actually is.

This leads to the second goal: the idea that the philosophical schools consisted mainly of what he calls spiritual exercises. This is where I found myself most critical. Hadot never really clearly defines or describes what is meant by spiritual exercises. He gives several examples, but it’s not clear what makes something an exercise and what sort exercises spiritual exercises are. This makes several the essays too wide-ranging; the ill-defined concept is able to be stretched to nearly anything that suited Hadot’s purposes.

Another problem with Hadot’s discussion about the role of spiritual exercises in ancient philosophy is that nearly all his examples come from the Stoics. He also references Plato and Lucretius’s Epicureanism as well. But Hadot frequently claims that these exercises are part of all six of the major ancient schools. This would have been more convincing if had drawn more evidence from all the schools. If Hadot had just focused on the Stoics and kept his claims tied to them, it would have been far more persuasive.

The essays did tend to be repetitive as well; the overall thesis and purpose was pretty much established in the first essay. The rest of the essays do not add all that much to it.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Review: The Quick Red Fox

The Quick Red Fox (Travis McGee #4)The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In so many ways MacDonald and McGee are breaths of fresh air. The language and style capture a particular time and place, though not naturalistic. There is a romantic, stylized element to the stories and the characters. The plot of this story takes some interesting turns and McGee finds himself in a few pickles; but in the end, it's not really about the plot. It's the characters, the language, the setting, all wrapped up together into just the right mix.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Review: Star Wars: Visions - Ronin

Star Wars: Visions - RoninStar Wars: Visions - Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, this book was a disappointment. I love the anime short it was based on, "The Duel". It was my favorite of the Star Wars: Visions shorts. And the idea of a more full-throated re-imagining of Star Wars in the context of a Japanese influenced tropes, images, and mythos was exciting. Star Wars itself was influenced by these and the idea of returning the favor was an excellent idea. I was really excited for this book. However, the execution falls short. There are interesting characters and settings, but the flow of the plot and the development of the characters and their motivations was not what it needed to be. I found myself rereading sections several times because I wasn't sure what was going on or why something was happening: it frequently felt like I missed some important piece of action. The individuals character were each compelling on their own, but their motivations for what they were doing and why they were doing it together was never clear enough. And I still don't quite understand the ending.

The way Candon handles the force, the Jedi, the Sith has a lot of potential; but it ended up being more confusing than insightful. The author's use of the singular they/them for the non-binary character could be confusing. There were several times I had to reread the paragraph because it wasn't clear if the pronoun's antecedent was the non-binary character or the group.

There was a lot of potential; lots of good ideas worth exploring and developing, but unfortunately it just didn't come together.

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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became ModernThe Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Greenblatt’s The Swerve purports to explain how Epicureanism, in the form of Lucretius’ great poem, De Rerum Natura, created the modern world. This overstates, however, both the impact that Lucretius’ rediscover probably had as well as what Greenblatt actually shows. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful book.

It is far more about the intellectual and theological world of the 15th and 16th centuries than it is about anything else. This is not the book to turn to in order to learn Epicurean philosophy, though Greenblatt provides a adequate sketch. The claims made about Epicurean influence on the early modern thinkers are interesting and provoking, but all together to thin. Lucretius’ work obviously had an influence and was important in helping to shape the thought of this period; but the extent of it is less clear. That is, Greenblatt is not able to make the counterfactual claim that had Poggio Bracciolini not found the manuscript in the early 15th century, the course of history would have been all that different. That said, it was discovered and did influence thinkers such as Giordano Bruno, Galilee, and Jefferson, among many others.

What makes this book so wonderful, though, is the tale Greenblatt weaves. His narrative explains how the ancient works found their ways into monasteries, how and why they were copied, and how they were lost. And then, of course, how they were rediscovered by likes of Bracciolini and other humanists. Greenblatt ends the book with discussions of how the Church responded to the growing influence of the work. As Greenblatt tells it, the Church saw Epicureanism as a particularly threat, in a way it didn’t see the other ancient others. The physics of Epicureanism as presented in Lucretius’ beautiful lines of poetry seemed to them utterly incompatible with Church dogma and thus merited special attention. So, while Aristotle, Plato, and the Stoics could all be made to fit in some way, Lucretius’ poem was stubbornly indigestible by Christian theology. Greenblatt doesn’t come right and out and say it, but I think he sees this utter inconsonance with Christianity as why it is the set of ideas so central to the making of the modern world.

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Review: Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark

Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the BallparkInfinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark by Alva Noë
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On one hand, I really rather enjoyed this book. The chapters are short and pithy. Noe’s musings about baseball are thought-provoking; and his love of baseball shines through out. His idea that baseball is all about deciding who’s responsible for what, left me thinking about baseball from a new perspective. The relation of baseball to language and linguistics was intriguing. Anyone interested in baseball will find the book charming.

On the other hand, I found myself annoyed and disappointed at times with the book. Clearly aware of the philosophy of sport literature, the author makes almost no mention or reference to it. So many of the topics he dives into he treats as novel and original, as if he’s the first to consider these topics philosophically, when they are well-trodden in the literature. Noe has some interesting insights, but these too could have been better had he engaged with the writings by philosophers of sport.

Noe is explicit that he’s not trying to write a philosophy of sport book; that his is more the musings of a philosopher obsessed with baseball. And there is much in the book that fits this vein. But much of the book is also engaged in philosophical analysis of arguments about topics central to sport. As such, it is, necessarily, a work in philosophy of sport. And on that front, one has to grade it down a bit because it doesn’t enter the dialogue where those conversations are taking place. To strain the metaphor, he’s swinging the bat, but not stepping into the batter’s box to face the pitcher.

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Friday, March 03, 2023

Review: The Closers

The Closers (Harry Bosch, #11; Harry Bosch Universe, #14)The Closers by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gripping and engaging as always. Bosch is back on the job, working cold cases now. I like he and Kiz together as partners. Connelly's plotting is superb.

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Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: Let My People Know: The Incredible Story of Middle East Peace—and What Lies Ahead

Let My People Know: The Incredible Story of Middle East Peace—and What Lies AheadLet My People Know: The Incredible Story of Middle East Peace—and What Lies Ahead by Aryeh Lightstone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed by this book. I heard the author on a podcast and thought he and the book sounded interesting. I really wanted to like it; I am pro-Israel; I think the Abraham Accords are a tremendous, historical achievement. But the book itself doesn’t really work. The author violates one of the core principles of good writing: show me, don’t tell me. Lightstone tells us a lot of what happened in the buildup towards and the execution of the Abraham Accords but the account lacks punch, drama, or intensity. We are told how ecstatic and thrilled the author and everyone around him is, but it’s hard for the reader to get that themselves from the text (though it is there when one considers the historical accomplished of the accords). There are just too many platitudes, hyperbole, and grandiose proclamations.

The author repeatedly expresses his gratitude in the book; his wonder and excitement at playing a role in this historical process; his thanks for those that helped me be there and be a part of things: from Ambassador Friedman to Kushner and even Trump. That’s all well and good; gratitude is important. But that’s not what the book sells itself as. This is far more memoir than account of how the accords came to be or why they are so important.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Review: Persepolis Rising

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series continues to be one of my favorites. Each volume adds to the story, to the characters. It surprises, while also sticking with what makes it great. After #6, I didn't know where the story would go; I was worried it get stale, but the authors juggle things up here to make it feel fresh again. This sets up what I assume will be the story arc for the last novels in the series.

While the last book felt much more intimate, this was more sweeping. How does the crew of Rocinante do with others, not only amongst themselves? How do they evolve to the next stage? If the last novel had a theme focused on forgiveness, the leitmotif of this novel is power: what drives it and what opposes it.

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Thursday, February 09, 2023

Review: A Pastime of their Own: The Story of Negro League Baseball

A Pastime of their Own:  The Story of Negro League BaseballA Pastime of their Own: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Louis Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a well-presented and concise history of Negro League Baseball. It's only 12 lectures, about 6 hours, but it covers the development, growth, and downfall of the different leagues. Starting with the growth of baseball after the Civil War and emancipation, Moore tells the story of the development and difficult growth of Black baseball through the players, owners, and teams that were essential to the history. I didn't realize how many different Negro leagues there were. I would have liked another lecture on the post-integration downfall; this is covered very quickly in the lecture on integration but it felt like there was more to be said about what happens after integration. I think any fan of baseball will learn a lot about an important part of the history of baseball and America in these lectures.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Review: Philosophy, Sport and the Pandemic

Philosophy, Sport and the PandemicPhilosophy, Sport and the Pandemic by Jeffrey P Fry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My review of this book is published on the Nordic Sport Science Forum.

There are some excellent chapters in this new anthology on sport and the pandemic, but my overall assessment of the volume is mixed. There are some issues with it that prevent me from recommending this work without qualification.

Read the rest:

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