Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Review: Alphabet Squadron

Alphabet Squadron (Star Wars)Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the book a little tough to get into at first. There were several story lines that one knew would ultimately connect, but the way the author moved between them made it harder to get a feel for the story and characters. It took a long time to get a sense of these characters, and even by the end of the book, the connection I felt for them was not as deep as it should have been. But as the book progress, the storylines come together and the overall story gets tighter and more engaging.

This is a war story; it is about what war does to the people fighting it. Wars are messy, and it messes people, even good people, up. All the characters struggle with the effects of the war, and do so in different ways. This makes it a very different kind of Star Wars story. There’s no Luke Skywalker saving the day. This has pros and cons: it can be much richer of a tale, but it also can veer towards a kind of moral grayness. Alphabet Squadron doesn’t go that far: the good guys and bad guys are still distinguishable. Yes, the good guys have warts and the bad guys are not completely monstrous, but there is no question that the Emperor was evil, the deeds of the Empire were often monstrous, and the rebellion for all its faults was still a force for good. What allows the book to avoid falling into the bankrupt trap of moral grayness is that the people make choices and end up where they (and who they are) because of their choices and values.

Seeing Hera Syndulla again is a treat; though I think they could have done more with her (and maybe the trilogy will). I don’t mind the Force not being central, but I do think Star Wars needs the Force to play some role. And that was missing here. Maybe the full trilogy will bring it in.

I am looking forward to seeing where the trilogy goes.



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Monday, February 08, 2021

Review: The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to WatchThe Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting and engaging book. Gottschall intertwines his personal journal into and through amateur MMA with research on evolutional psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. He explores the history of fighting and violence in human societies and in animals and develops some intriguing theories about why people continue to fight and are drawn to fighting.

The book obviously treads into some contentious (and these days dangerous) waters about gender and culture. I think the author handles these issues relatively well. He presents his reasons and evidence for this take and how he sees his interpretation of these issues connecting with the discussion of violence and fighting. If you disagree with his interpretations (and there are definitely things to take issue with), you won’t likely agree with his conclusions, but even so there is still a lot to learn about from the book. The storytelling itself is engaging: Gottschall’s own experiences as both confirmation and disconfirmation of things he is hard learned from the research is compelling. You can see that he had certain ideas about fighting and violence, that were challenged by the research and his experiences and that he comes through experience with new or modified ideas.

His broadest take is that the violence we see in things like MMA, but across the board in sports and life, are often linked to some deep, evolutionary need for duels: ritualized fighting and experience of danger. There are psychological needs met by these experience of preparing one’s self for violence but also in engaging in the violence. He argues you can see this across human cultures, but deep into the animal kingdom as well. He also argues that this is much more tied to the males of species; though not exclusively.

The argument for these claims, ultimately, needs to be a lot better and tighter than what is presented here. In a sweeping way, there are many interesting connections he identifies and shares; and I think there is general sense in which Gottschall is capturing a good chunk of the picture. Yet, the devil is in the details, as the clichéd saying goes, and there isn’t a lot on the details here (which is fine—since this is not scientific treatise on the subject. It’s memoir of Gottschall’s experiences and connection to his research on these issues).

As a philosopher of sport, the sections specifically focused on sport were interesting to me. There isn’t, unfortunately, any engagement with the work on dangerous and violent sport in the philosophy of sport, and that was disappointing. I think Gottschall and the book could have benefited from that work.

I listened to the book, and the narrator, Quincy Dunn Baker, was excellent. He played no small part in my enjoyment of the book. Overall, the book is worth a look and offers a lot to think about.


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Monday, January 25, 2021

Review: The Realist Turn: Repositioning Liberalism

The Realist Turn: Repositioning Liberalism (Palgrave Studies in Classical Liberalism)The Realist Turn: Repositioning Liberalism by Douglas B. Rasmussen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl argued that the liberal order is best defended by grounding it on a neo-Aristotelian perfectionist ethics. In The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics, they defended that perfectionist ethics and its meta-ethical basis. In their latest work, they shift their defense of liberty, natural rights, and the liberal social order to metaphysics and epistemology. In particular, a defense of metaphysical realism, which in basic terms is the view that (1) there are real things that have natures independent of and apart from any cognition of these things; and (2) we are capable of knowing these things and their natures.

The authors argue that natural rights, since they rest on an appeal to human nature, is best grounded in metaphysical realism. And, further, since the individualist perfectionist ethics they defend also rests on an appeal to human nature, human flourishing, and natural goodness, they need to defend the case for metaphysical realism and how it supports those concepts.

As they defend their neo-Aristotelian-Thomistic account of realism, their primary target is Hilary Putnam and what they call neo-pragmatist accounts of ethical and epistemological constructivism which reject aspects of or all of metaphysical realism. They are also targeting other classical liberal and libertarian thinkers who have shied away from or rejected natural rights and natural goodness as the best ground for the liberal order.

The first half of the book is restatement of their arguments for natural rights and natural goodness, with an eye towards why metaphysical realism undergirds these arguments. The second half of the book is a defense of metaphysical realism along with the critique of Putnam and the pragmatist constructivist views.

I’m largely in agreement with Rasmussen and Den Uyl; whatever criticisms or disagreements I might have are largely nitpicks and rhetorical. I certainly see the value of using Putnam as a foil for their own view and the value in showing why those pragmatist, constructivist views fail (especially in terms of engaging with those with hold more to those ideas than Dougs’ views). But at the same time, I personally found those sections of the book the least interesting and engaging. Nevertheless, they are valuable as critiques of popular contemporary views in philosophy.


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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review: Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms EverybodyCynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have done a lot of the hard and dirty work for those of us who cannot stomach wading through the incoherent works of Critical Theory. Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault did this for Postmodernism: showing how the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment (starting with Rousseau) evolved into the Postmodernism of the mid-twentieth century. Pluckrose and Lindsay pick up the baton and carry the analysis forward showing how Postmodernism evolved into Critical Theory and Social Justice Theory – what they aptly call Applied Postmodernism.

They start by presenting the foundations of Postmodernism in the 1960s with a lot of attention on Foucalt, Lyotard, and Derrida. They lay out the essential principles and themes of Postmodernism. Then they discuss how several new approaches emerged out of this intellectual funhouse. These new approaches, postcolonialism, queer theory, and critical race theory, where more activist that the earlier postmodernisms: they were on a mission to end social injustice and rebuild a new, more just order.

Pluckrose and Lindsay move through each iteration of these theories. They identify the main intellectual roots of these approaches and how they currently manifest themselves. They also persuasively argue that these are theoretically hollow, incoherent, and have pernicious effects – often the very opposite of their self-proclaimed social justice mission.

They discuss the philosophical roots of this hollowness and incoherence. Most of these theories build on postmodernism’s rejection of objectivity in metaphysics and epistemology. Once objective reason and reality are thrown out, everything is up for grabs. (Personally, I think they could have done more here, but that becomes a different book. Moreover, Hicks book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, does this for Postmodernism and the same criticisms would apply).

They close with discussion on how best to challenge and beat these theories in the marketplace of ideas. The two main themes here: demands for theoretical and scholarly rigor and openness to challenge and critique.

Throughout the work, Pluckrose and Lindsay do a good job of explaining and exposing the ideas behind these theories. Though their disdain for the ideas is evident, they take them seriously and do not engage in straw man arguments.

By appealing to a broad-based, reasonable liberalism, they are able to show how we can be against sexism, racism, oppression (little s, social injustice) without having to be in league with Social Justice Theory. We can acknowledge the many social problems that we have and work to fix them without all this fashionable nonsense. Indeed, the authors make a strong case that we have to reject these theories and their supposed solutions in order to make progress.

The world has made tremendous progress against all forms of injustice and oppression in the last few hundred years because of Enlightenment liberalism and humanism. To continue that progress we need to affirm and strength these ideas, not reject them. It is, as Pluckrose and Lindsay argue, this applied postmodernism, beyond being incapable of making further progress, has started to reverse some of that progress. These theories have reintroduced and reinforced identity stereotypes and categories. Instead of appealing to common humanity and reason, they make differences more salient inviting hostility and antagonism among members of different identity groups. The intolerance for critique or challenge (branding those who offer intellectual critiques as racist for example) has tended to silence the moderate voices, leaving only the extremes on the left and right to be vocal. And because these theories tend to reject objective reason, all that is left is force.

I think the authors are correct that if exposed to sunlight, these ideas would largely wither and die on their own. That is why they suggest making sure the marketplace of ideas is kept free and open; that ideas need to be open to challenge and criticism without punishment. And they recognize that we need good, reasonable ideas, theories, and methods that can tackle the issues. That is, in rejecting Social Justice we cannot reject the need to work towards more justice and freedom for all individuals. And we need good theories to do this. Their broadly construed Enlightenment liberalism is a good start.



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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: Someone to Watch Over Me

Someone to Watch Over Me (Spencer, #48)Someone to Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed all of Atkins' Spenser novels, but this might be my favorite. (Though I admit recency bias is probably in effect). It has all the right beats of a Spenser novel and Atkins is very nearly able to capture Parker's style. I like the way he integrates his plots with past books--both his and Parker's (and this one more than most). Atkins is also quite funny. Parker was witty, but Atkins gets me to laugh out loud at times.

As I write in all my Atkins Spenser reviews: Atkins gets about 80-90% there, but there is something ineffable that is off. I can almost forget at times that this isn't Parker, but there is something, always, that subtly reminds me that it is not. Maybe it's just the voice in my head as I read; it is slightly different than when I read Parker. In any case, I still love it. Atkins has allowed us to continue live in Spenser's world and I am grateful for that.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan

Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan (The Asian Saga #1)Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan by James Clavell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Clavell's classic epic novel Shogun lives up to its reputation. Though only spanning 6 months or so, it truly is epic. The book tells a fictionalized version of the rise of the long ruling Tokugawa shogunate through the eyes (at least in part) of a English pilot who shipwrecks in Japan (and is the first English person to get to Japan--based on the real life account of William Adams). Clavell switches the point of view through out the book, allowing the reader to get different perspectives on the events and motivations of the characters. In particular, by shifting from Blackthorne (the Englishman) to various Japanese characters, one can see how each saw the other. This is especially true early on in the novel, where Blackthorne saw the Japanese as uncaring about life and all too willing to kill, and the Japanese regarded Blackthorne as a barbarian and uncivilized. Through the novel, they grow to appreciate and respect each other's strengths and reconceive what they initially saw as barbaric until more understandable differences of worldview. One of the main themes of the book it the interplay of these differences/oppositions, be it more explicitly religious (between various versions of Catholic, Protestantism, Shintoism, and Buddhism), cultural (food, sexual mores, etc), or views of life and death (seppuku plays a prominent role through out the novel).

The novel shows a lot of how feudal Japan worked, what the values and ideals of the ruling classes where, and how they viewed the rest of the world. I often found myself leaving the book to read up aspects (a battle, a city, a historic individual, etc).

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review: The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics

The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to MetaethicsThe Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics by Douglas J. Den Uyl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those familiar with the work of Den Uyl and Rasmussen, there is not a lot here that is new in terms of their theory of individualistic perfectionism. What is new here and helpful is the work they do connecting and contrasting their arguments and theories with other thinkers and accounts. They contrast their views with competing Neo-Aristotelian accounts. They also take on various critical challenges to central parts of their approach, including the is/ought gap and naturalistic fallacy. There is a lot, and I mean a lot, to chew on here. Their earlier books, Norms of Liberty and Liberty and Nature, are much better entry points if you are new to their work. TPT is definitely a work intended for more experienced philosophers. For those more in the Neo-Aristotelian ethical traditions, there is much to learn about what makes Den Uyl and Rasmussen's Individualist Perfectionism unique. And for those in more mainstream ethical traditions, there is much to learn about the Neo-Aristotelian approaches that too often get overlooked.

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Review: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back (From a Certain Point of View, #2)From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back by Elizabeth Schaefer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These stories are great. Like the movie itself, there is often a tragic element, though always with an undercurrent of hope. It gives so much more texture and context to the Star Wars universe. I'm always intrigued by the focus on low-level imperials. Why do they support the empire or why are they imperials at all? Like the first volume tracking with A New Hope (also excellent), we also get the perspective of droids and sentient creatures. These often provide rather different perspectives of the conflict between the empire and rebels. All in all, this is a must for any Star Wars fan. The audio book is a must; the readers and sound effects help to bring the stories to life.

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Review: The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority

The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of AuthorityThe Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority by Martin Gurri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating and important book. Gurri’s thesis is worth examining and reexamining. While he probably overstates its explanatory power; it goes far in explaining and tying together many of the events in the last decade.

The essential idea is that the digital revolution has swept away the authority of traditional institutions leading to a public that is more and more negating and rejecting these institutions. In so doing he links together Egypt’s Tahrir square, the Arab Spring, the Indignados movement in Spain, Obama, the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, the Tent Protests in Israel, Brexit, and the rise of populism and figures like Trump. At first glance it seems bizarre to link such disparate things, but Gurri’s idea is that these can be explained by the crisis of authority caused by what he calls the Fifth Wave, or the information tsunami.

The thumbnail sketch is that the authoritative institutions of elites have long governed our world by controlling information. The government, media, academia, corporations, religious institutions enjoyed a near monopoly the creation and dissemination of information. This gave these institutions legitimacy and authority. But much like the printing press destabilized the creation and control of information in the 15th and 16th centuries, new digital and network technologies have empowered the public to upend the established order.

Gurri loves to point out that in the year 2001 the amount information created doubled all the information that had ever previously been created in history. And then 2002 doubled 2001. This is why he characterizes the digital revolution as an information tsunami. This wave came in fast and high – and washed away the foundations of the established institutions.

The digital revolution lowered the barriers of entry for anyone wanting to create or distribute information. Information was being created by everyone and could be shared by anyone. Experts didn’t need a Ph.D. and bloggers didn’t have to be Walter Cronkite. The ‘guild’ of information creation and control was broken open and anyone could enter: and almost everyone has. With this, however, all the conceits, errors, and mistakes of the established order get exposed. And elite and institution failure is everywhere. From scandals and corruption to the false promises of utopian ideologies; every mistake, every failure has it is proverbial 15 minutes of fame.

This all leads, argues Gurri, to the erosion of the authority and legitimacy of these institutions and the elites running them. The public is angry, dissatisfied, and disillusioned. It wants change. But the public, as a public, doesn’t have a positive alternative to propose. The public is a many, not a one. It is endlessly fractured and dispersed. While it can come together, it seems to be able to only to do so to repudiate. It is, as Gurri says, always against. We see this in Cancel Culture: the twitter-sphere just calls for people’s heads, for trivial and grotesquely awful behavior alike. It offers no chance of redemption, no hope for forgiveness and rebuilding. Just rejection.

And this is, I think, one of the most interesting parts of Gurri’s thesis. The public revolts, but only offers negation and nihilism. The system must be torn down, “defunded,” or the swamp drained, but no alternative is in the offing. We must reject new things: be it immigrants or technology. The world must be destroyed in order to save it.

Importantly, Gurri points out this rejection is not explained by economics: many of these movements and protests originate in the middle-class, the well off. This is not the revolt of the proletariat. Nor is it merely an issue of throwing off authoritarian regimes. Again many of these protest movements are in the freest democracies in the world. What explains and unites all these movements, if Gurri is right, is a worldwide rejection of elite and established institutions. In the eyes of public, these institutions have no more legitimacy and no more authority. But the public has nothing to offer to replace them.

Towards the end of the last chapter, Gurri gestures at some positive ways forward. Nevertheless, the picture he paints is a scary one. Far more so because I think he’s right in a lot of ways. That said, Gurri presents this as a thesis to be continually tested, not just accepted.

Covid and the responses to it, by the traditional authorities and the public, will likely prove to be an interesting test of his thesis. In the short term it appears to give the elites the veneer of authority and legitimacy. They have the answers. They issue mandates. They are doing something. Listen to the Science. So far the public has gone along—whether out of fear of the virus or out of a newfound respect for these authorities. But over the medium and long term, if Gurri is right, the failure (inevitable or not) to contain the pandemic will undermine the authority and legitimacy of these institutions even more. I think we can see that already in the attention and gleeful repudiation of the politicians caught breaking their own lockdown rules.

I’m not sure Gurri is right about everything; indeed, I’d bet he’s wrong about a lot. But I find his overall thesis and explanation of it intriguing. It seems to explain a lot of events and how they connect in some fundamental ways. It is worth a good long think.

(Russ Roberts has a great interview with Martin Gurri about the book: https://www.econtalk.org/martin-gurri-on-the-revolt-of-the-public/ )

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Review: Queen's Shadow

Queen's Shadow (Star Wars)Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were many interesting elements in this book. We see Padme turn from Queen to Senator, and how she forms many of the relationships that play important roles in the Clone Wars series. There is also some interesting set up for the current Marvel run of Darth Vader. But otherwise the story kind of goes nowhere. It's really more of a slice of Padme's life during transition and then abruptly ends. There is a lot of detail on Padme's clothing, which is not uninteresting. What sometimes looked rather silly in the movies gets context and background. But there is much more of this than I was interested in. Seeing the behind the scenes so to speak of her handmaidens and the roles they played also was fun, but not enough for a great story.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theory

Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist TheorySport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theory by William J. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My review of William Morgan's new book, Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theory is published at the Nordic Sport Science Forum:. https://idrottsforum.org/klesha_morgan201217/

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Review: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of JapanBanzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan by Robert K. Fitts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The subtitle of the book way oversells it. There is not a lot of assassination or espionage or intrigue even. There is plenty of baseball though: most of the book details the travels of the 1934 all-star American League baseball team and the action and box scores of the games palyed against the Japanese (and a few other national teams) This is not uninteresting (though it did get tedious) but also not what I was expecting or hoping for.

To be honest, the book felt like a long-form magazine article that got stretched into a book, with the breakdown of the games inserted to provide the fat for the bones of the book.

That said, Fitts provides good context for the history of baseball in Japan, as well as the growth of the militaristic and nationalistic ideas that contributed to the tensions between Japan and the US (and eventually leading to the war). There are no doubt better sources for these histories, but the context of the US and Japan teams playing baseball helped to concretize both.

The last few chapters were the most interesting. Fitts reports the reactions of the players on both sides of the Pacific to the war. He discusses how the outbreak of the war affected some of the stars of each team personally: some went to war, others helped with their countries’ war efforts on the home front. There is a particular focus on Moe Berg—though ultimately that too falls short of the intrigue and espionage promised by the book. Fitts also discusses how, after the war ended, baseball and the connections made from the 1934 tour were used to helped rebuild the Japanese national morale and to some extent the social institutions. Baseball was used to help reconnect Japan to it is pre-war past and its post-war future.


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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Review: How to Fight Anti-Semitism

How to Fight Anti-SemitismHow to Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book. It say things that need to be said, that need to be understood, and that need to be shared widely.

It is not a detailed book; it is a not deep theoretical analysis of anti-Semitism. It is not a rigorous history of anti-Semitism: either through the ages or in contemporary America. It touches on all these in a way: pulling from works and thinkers who do engage in those more detailed analyses. The point here is more to get both the sense of the reality of anti-Semitism in the here and now, and through ages, in order to affirm that anti-Semitism is still a threat, worldwide and in America. All this to lay the groundwork for what Jews (and non-Jews) need to do to fight against anti-Semitism.

Weiss briefly recounts the history of anti-Semitism, then looks at anti-Semitism (and its growth) on the right, on the left, and in the Islamic world. She then closes with advice on how to fight anti-Semitism. If you lean more to the right, you will likely find her at times ungenerous to the right. But, similarly, if you lean left, you will likely find her ungenerous occasionally to the left. Both concerns may be accurate, though it strikes me that she strikes a good balance.

Two points that struck me and will stay with me:

1. Anti-Semitism at root is a conspiracy theory. It is not merely or even hatred of Jews. It is not just another form of racism. It is, at root, a conspiratorial idea about the Jewish people as a nefarious, dangerous, or powerful force behind whatever one takes as bad or powerful in the world. In this way, it is paradoxically compatible with being friendly to Jews or being pro-Israel—if the root of this friendliness, admiration, or support is based on this conspiracy theory about the Jews. Though eventually, this conspiracy theory calls for extermination: either by murder or by assimilation.

2. The best way to fight anti-Semitism is to build and to affirm. Build one’s life, one’s community. Affirm one’s Jewishness and values:
“we fight by waging an affirmative battle for who we are. By entering the fray for our values, for our ideas, for our ancestors, for our families, for our communities, for the generations that will come after us” (168).


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Monday, September 07, 2020

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderfully fun and imaginative novel. It explores important themes of individuality and conformity; love and respect; independence and courage. It is understandable why it is such a classic and beloved young adult novel.

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Friday, September 04, 2020

Review: Kindness Goes Unpunished: A Longmire Mystery

Kindness Goes Unpunished: A Longmire MysteryKindness Goes Unpunished: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third Longmire takes things in some different directions. First, it takes place in Philadelphia. Then, the sort of crime it deals with is different. It's much more personal. There are some relationship developments I'm not entirely sure about--but we'll see how they get played with as the series grows. I love the dynamic between Henry and Walt: their love and respect for each other under-girds so much of these novels.

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Review: Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning RaceSelf-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ memoir is a deeply personal exploration of the evolution of his thinking about race and identity. The candor and honesty with which he engages these often divisive and controversial issues is refreshing. And, maybe more importantly, enlightening. I am not sure I quite fully agree with or even wholly understand some of what Williams is arguing. But he asks and attempts to answer for himself important questions about his own identity and what that suggests about the issues of race and identity more generally. Though the cases are somewhat different, these questions are quite relevant for my own questions about my Jewish identity.

The basic idea I take him to be arguing for is that we need to transcend race. He is, as I understand him, arguing that we need to find a way to celebrate or just acknowledge the connections we each individually have with our family, culture, and history (and the diversity these all contain). But, he argues, race is an artificial construct that adds little, if anything, to this. He’s not striving for a muting out of differences, but a recognition that the categories of race just don’t capture what is important about each person. But we have come all too often to treat these categories as totalizing; we reify them in ways that have caused so much harm and damage – for everyone.

Williams uses his own family to illustrate and motivate this mediation. He comes from a mixed family: his mother from European ancestry and his father with African ancestry by way of slavery. Williams married a French woman with whom he has had two children—both of whom by his account are blonde, blued-eye Parisians. This straddling of so many different concurrent identities is part of what makes Williams well-situated to ask these questions: it both gives him the space to ask them and the motivation to do so.

In the end, agree with his view about race and identity or not, Williams’ poignant engagement with these issues is definitely worth one’s time.


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