Skip to comments.Free Republic Book Club, 2/24/05
Posted on 02/24/2005 6:11:45 PM PST by Tanniker Smith
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Please! Go to this week's thread. (There's a link a few posts up.)
Wow, good for you!! :-)
I've dabbbled in fiction in the past. I've never had any of it published except at a website that an online friend ran for a time. I'm not even sure that I like most of my own fiction, but a few friends have commented positively on it.
2. Personal Memoirs by U.S. Grant
3. Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution by Benson Bobrick, 1997
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I'm always reading Plato and Aristotle. Recently I've been going through Plato according to a scheme laid out by Al-Farabi (who wrote a sort of cliff notes to Plato, sometimes strikingly at odds with the obvious sense of the dialogue described). Alcibiades Major and currently the Theatetus, reading them with his comments. In Aristotle, I'm currently reading Topics (motivated in part by some issues in Averroes, trying to see where he got something) and Metaphysics VII.
Still in philosophy, my other major kick of late has been Santayana, as part of my study of those I consider underappreciate reasonable men in a galaxy of overappreciated crazy people with studied for their supposedly "more interesting" ideas (lol). American pragmatists are my current theme there - before Santayana I was working on Peirce. I am current reading his "Life of Reason" stuff (1906). Before that I read his "Skepticism and Animal Faith" (1923).
History of thought
Then the philosophy subject starts bleeding over into the next, history of thought stuff. The overall theme here is Straussian analysis of medieval Islamic philosophy, and rival understandings of the whole civilization scale reason-religion debates that brings up. Straussian views of the medieval Muslim thinkers, rival modern views of those, their own views of Plato and Aristotle, and the intervening history in the late classical and early Christian period (how P and A were packaged before they got to the Muslims etc) - are the counters on the board, as it were.
The key figures here are Farabi and Averroes themselves, Strauss and those after him recently, and the theological figures al-Ghazali (between F and A) and John Philoponus (pre-Islamic, the Christian reception of P and A). The texts I've been reading are Mushin Mahdi's "Alfarabi and the foundations of Islamic Political Philosophy", his translation "AlFarabi - the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle", Charles Butterworth's translation of Averroes' "Decisive Treatise", Strauss' familiar book "Philosophy and Law", Strauss' translation of Maimonides "Guide to the Perplexed" (especially sections I 70 and following, giving his attitude toward the Muslim theologians), and various bits from Philoponus in Richard Sorabji's (not a Straussian, incidentally) series "Ancient Commentators on Aristotle".
Next there is the modern ideology theme. A point of contact there is one I read relatively recently (though it has been out for some time) - Harvey Mansfield's "Taming the Prince", trying to connect the thread's from Machiavelli through modern tyranny to American constitutionalism and presidential power within it. I also recently read Gertrude Himmelfarb's "The Roads to Modernity", her review of the British, US, and French enlightenments and their differences. Also Robert Kaplan's "Warrior Politics" and Lee Harris' "Civilization and its Enemies". Then there is the somewhat narrower but related subject of foreign policy proper. The two things I've read on that recently are Walter Russell Mead's "Special Providence" (his typology of schools of thought in US foreign policy) and John Mearsheimer's "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" (a defense of his pessimistic but fairly isolationist realism).
Others in this area that I have not read through recently but do consult regularly as I read these others, are Alan Cassel's overview history "Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World", Arendt's "Origins of Totalitarianism", Paul Johnson's "Modern Times", and Himmelfarb's edition of essays by Lord Acton "Freedom and Power". The first is convenient, I regard the others as indispensible.
Another theme that is raised by questions of historical parallels and by religion and philosophy issues that come up in the history of thought stuff above, is the whole question of ancient (especially pagan) religion and its less than reasonable basis. Outside any of the above schools of thought, there is a whole field of scholarship there, and within it a kind of Vico-esque set of writers I find illuminating. (Vico-esque meaning along lines suggested by him in "the New Science of...").
The first of these is Fustel de Coulanges and his incredible "the ancient city". Jose Ortega y Gasset steered me to Coulanges, and clearly made an impression on Gasset (see his "An interpretation of universal history" - a scathing review of Toynbee by the way).
Much more recently there is an essayist who combines bits of this tradition with some Heideggerianism named Robert Pogue Harrison, who has written two interesting books that are basically philosophic anthropology - "Forests - the Shadow of civilization" is the earlier and weaker of the two. The second and stronger is "The Dominion of the dead" - which must be read as taking up Coulanges relatively undeveloped but striking theme at the start of "the ancient city".
Another striking book in this area - ancient religions etc I mean, not Vico-ists - is "Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come" by Norman Cohn, which traces the apocalyptic theme and its undeveloped predecessors from Sumer to early Christianity, noticing some telling points along the way, and putting forth a highly provocative thesis (especially on the essentially Persian origins of moral dualism). Won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it thought provoking.
Flimsier than all the above, I also read military history, as a hobbyist basically. Most recently I've been reading David Glantz's more recent book on the first year of WW II in Russia "Before Stalingrad" (considerably more up to date than his older Barbarossa book, offers considerable insight but tends to keep the operational narrative rather high, without plumbing the tactical bits as much as one would like). Also reading through the parts of David Chandler's "Campaigns of Napoleon" dealing with the 1813 campaign in Germany. (Chandler can sometimes be silly, but the wealth of operational detail he gives covers many sins).
On deck in this area are Glantz's Kursk book (I've skimmed it in the library but want to study it for real) and Esposito's "Swords Around the Throne" (his full study of the structure etc of the French army in the Napoleonic era). Amazon says they will be here soon (lol).
Before those I was reading a volume of essays by numerous writers on WW I, edited by Geoffrey Parker and others, called "the great war and the 20th century". Some good, some less good. And Christopher Duffy's "The military experience in the age of reason", which is OK at what it does (tells you what it was like for those involved, basically) but is too thin on both tactical detail and historical narrative.
I also read occasional big think popular science books. Recently my reading theme has been computation and intelligence, and in practice has meant Roger Penrose, Stephen Wolfram, Paul Davies, Rudy Rucker, Gregory Chaitin, and James Bailey.
I hope somewhere there is at least one person besides me who cares a lick (lol).
Another one that I may have neglected to mention earlier is Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography.
One of the better takes on our 16th president that has been published within the past year.
I love Tim Powers. You never really know what's going on, who the good guy or the bad guys are, or just where the story is headed.
"Declare" is perhaps Powers's most ambitious project to date. It is a huge novel, both in length and scope, weighing in at over 500 pages, spanning decades in the telling and transporting the reader all over Europe and the Middle-East.
An audacious mix of fantasy and historical fact, Powers really shows off his extraordinary skills as a novelist with Declare , centering his story around Kim Philby, who was the head of counter-espionage for the British secret service - but who was also in the pay of the KGB for almost fifty years.
Powers has said of this novel "...it's taking Kim Philby's story and weaving a supernatural hidden story into it; it winds up involving Philby's father, St. John Philby, and T. E. Lawrence to some extent, as well as the SIS, MI5, the KGB and GRU, and the French SDECE. And it takes place in London, Kuwait, Berlin, Paris, and on Mount Ararat. I've always been a big fan of John LeCarre, and this is sort of Tradecraft Meets Lovecraft."
"I am taking the whole intricate history of the Cold War and cooking up a supernatural secret explaination for everything ... it is sort of Le Carre characters in a sorceriously torquered spy setting."
One of my favorite novels-based upon the Cold War era-is William F. Buckley's The Redhunter.
I actually own a personally autographed copy of the book.
I've read it, BooBoo. The theme is wonderful, brilliant in fact, while the text is extreeeeeeeemely simple. The author uses three-part sentence structure and application to a fault. While very biblical and making good use of a multitude of bible translations and paraphrases, I found the use of the appendix frustrating, wishing each referenced verse's address was footnoted on the page in which it was used.
As God is wont to do, I found the Holy Spirit guiding me into the truths the author discusses prior to, during, and after each reading, to confirm the wisdom being shared. Despite the book's adolescent tone (the author's attempt, I can grant, to reach the widest audience possible) I enjoyed the teaching tremendously and have recommended the book to many.
I finally began reading ENEMIES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC yesterday. Very exciting opening with great scene changes and original descriptions. It was fun to read the note you had written to us again. I'm on page 120.
You have a long way to go! I'm 20% of the way through writing "Domestic Enemies" now.
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