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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