The Harry Potter series has improved beyond the initial novel; I finished books 2-5 this month, with my friend loaning me the last two this coming week. The brothers Fred and George I’ve found to be the most interesting characters so far, and the scarce and scattered interactions with Firenze and the other centaurs the most intriguing.
This month from Univocal came Ira J. Allen’s translation of Nietzsche’s essay, The Dionysian Vision of the World [notes], which was a breathtaking read and has only whet my taste for working through his oeuvre next year.
I read a lot of “light” non-fiction, across a number of disciplines. In mathematics, Steven Strogatz’s essay collection The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity was a quick, fun read and has given me some ideas for teaching higher mathematics to my children. Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches [notes] had substantive content about business ownership, but I suspect a book was the wrong format for some of the material. Stephen Montgomery’s People Patterns: A Modern Guide to the Four Temperaments riffs off of the MBTI and Jungian personality types in a slim, practical volume that, despite my misgivings about those tests generally, was packed with insight and wisdom. Mumon’s retellings and meditations of traditional Zen koans in The Gateless Gate were, as expected, about equal parts insightful and incomprehensible.
More substantively, Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost was a crystal-clear posing of the “gateway” problem to political change in the United States; the normative, systematic corruption, and a proposal for reversing that. Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States [notes] is a classic work of economic literature that more than holds up several decades later, defining the previously separated strategies for protest: exit, which has been primarily theorized in economics, and voice, which had largely been ignored by economics and only taken up by political scientists.
George Gilder’s Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World was a peculiar read; I have a partial review here. It’s clear that our core axioms are entirely opposed, with his assuming a teleology that I can find no justification for. However, his actual theory deserves some consideration, but it’s alien enough to me that I need to take some time and familiarize myself with some of the background behind the various claims. I’ll likely be circling around this over the next few weeks.
I’ve saved the best for last. Lee Billings’ Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars (discovered through an editor at Aeon, where Billings has written some pieces) is a fascinating telling of the science and the personalities behind the science of searching for life on other worlds.
Gao Wenqian’s biography of Zhou Enlai [notes] was excellent, and the additional context to Zhou’s early life provided by translators Lawrence Sullivan and Peter Rand served to aid rather than overwhelm.
Finally, John Gray’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals is even better than The Silence of Animals, which I read earlier this year. It follows closely, both in style and substance, the works of E. M. Cioran and Schopenhauer. Gray is a devastating critic of humanism, myths of progress, and liberal morality, but instead of calling a return to faith as does David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions, he argues that Nietzsche, liberals and humanists have failed to give up their Platonic ideals of truth and their Christian hopes for salvation; failed to reckon, ultimately, with the substance of a disavowed faith. Most interesting to me is his discussion about the inefficiencies of consciousness, and about the lack of necessity for consciousness in a practiced life, “lived right.” I’ll have more to say on this in the coming months.
Toiling in the salt mines of the internet brought forth some wonderful bounty:
- Ian Bogost in The Atlantic: Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User
- Eli Friedman in Jacobin: Outside the New China
- China Mieville in In These Times: Floating Utopias
- Mary Ann Tétreault in Jadaliyya: Dissent and Citizens’ Rights in Kuwait (Part 1, Part 2)
- Nicholas Weaver in Wired: Our Government Has Weaponized the Internet. Here’s How They Did It (see also: Things We’ve Learned About the NSA)
- Tim Carmody at Random House of Canada: What’s Missing in Keller and Greenwald’s Future of Journalism
- Xavier Marquez at Abandoned Footnotes: Aztec Political Thought
- Rob Horning in The New Inquiry: Ego Depleted
- Peter Rollins and Lawrence Krauss interviewed by The Guardian (Australia) : New Atheisms and the Death of God
- Venkatesh Rao in Aeon: Deep Play
- Jason Stearns in Foreign Affairs: Congo’s Sudden Calm: A Break in Rwandan Meddling and the Defeat of the M23 Rebels
- Venkatesh Rao at ribbonfarm: The Gooseberry Fallacy
- Steve Fuller in Aeon: Ninety-degree revolution
- Nick Turse at openDemocracy: The Pivot to Africa
- Wikileaks: The Trans-Pacific Partnership draft
- Doug Muder at Jesus Radicals: Distress of the Privileged
- Sean Carroll at the American Humanists Association Conference 2013: Purpose & The Universe (American Humanists Association 2013)
And finally, I have to recommend the entirety of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blogging through his reading of Tony Judt’s massive Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, but in particular I’d like to point you to these three posts:
- War and Welfare went Hand in Hand
- ‘In a Starving, Bleeding, Captive Land’
- When Plunder Becomes a System of Governance
Finally, you should be reading fogbanking.com. Several of the highlights from this month and last month came by way of Chris Reid’s peculiar recombinations.