From the San Francisco Chronicle, a review of The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce…”an example composed a century ago, but resonant circa 2011:”
“Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” And the definition of a politician: “An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wiggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.”
Christopher Hitchens‘ writings on politics and his public face on a variety of TV programs and in other forums have earned him manifold tags, not always favorable ones (depending on whom is bestowing them) — he’s been called a provocateur, a contrarian, a ranter, a polemicist, a traitor (by former friends on the Left who disagree with his view of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq). But the essays in “Arguably” remind us of other dimensions to this singular writer and thinker that are sometimes overshadowed by the range of his political commentary.
Though there are plenty of essays on politics to be found here, the book also treats us to other arrows in Hitchens’ proverbial quiver, including his bracing, exhilarating approach to important literary figures…
I read Under the Banner of Heaven a few year’s ago and was fascinated by it. The linked review is from Powell’s Books by Doug Brown. Also, I’ve linked to a piece from Texas Monthly on the sexual assault trial of Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When 45-year-old Dan Fante first sat down at his father’s typewriter, the result was typical. He felt great banging out a manuscript, but after one less-than-stellar response, he immediately trashed it. Success and destruction: That had been Dan’s cycle for decades until it was interrupted, finally, by luck and grace and the desire to write.
Dr. Dalrymple is a writer and medical doctor that has practiced in third-world countries, worked in prisons and inner-city hospitals, and has generally seen a good bit of life’s tragedies “at the bottom.” His more famous book was titled, Life at the Bottom—The Worldview That Makes the Underclass. (2001)
In Our Culture…, a collection of essays, the author writes of the necessity of maintaining boundaries if humanity isn’t going to descend into barbarism. He blames, in part, the modern intellectual’s attitude that being “unconventional” or “breaking taboos” are considered high virtues; and they are what is rewarded within the inner circles…without ever questioning the consequences of the unconventional. In the preface he says, “And the prestige that intellectuals confer upon antinomianism [heretic Christian view that one is released by grace from the obligation of observing moral law] soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient—the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement.” In other words, the selling that all morality is relative in meaning and application, has broad negative implications.
The Solace of Open Spaces (1985), by Gretel Ehrlich
I recently discovered Gretel Ehrlich. The discovery merely reflects my ignorance, since she’s well known by others…and yet, I get great joy from finding new food—someone whose words I immediately want to absorb. I found the book in a used book store. The title alone intrigued me—one who thinks that soul nurturing places, solitude and silence are the final luxuries. And her essays are about Wyoming, my neighbor state and our least populated one—to me, a feature, not a bug. Also, two of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard and Edward Abbey, who I’ve re-read multiple times, gave her high praise. I expect to read more of Ehrlich.
On Paris, a lean collection of Ernest Hemingway‘s dispatches while working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star , provides an unfettered glimpse into one of the author’s most significant periods of stylistic evolution. Originally published between 1922 and 1923, the articles are divided in their coverage between three primary topics: French politics, Parisian cafes, and American tourism. A fourth topic — one which permeates the collection, but which is not discussed directly — is Hemingway’s development as a writer. Taken together, these broad categories of reflection reveal a budding, sometimes temperamental, writer assembling a detailed vision of France’s social and political landscapes in the wake of World War I. This vision manifests an admiration for the French and their spirit, but furnishes an equally enticing image of the young newsman on the precipice of change.
My wonderful guitar teacher, Brian Lewis—whom I haven’t seen in months, but I still call him “my teacher”—recommended this book:
Josh Waitzkin was a boy chess genius, winning his first national championship at age nine, then was the subject of his father’s book Searching for Bobby Fischer, which was turned into a 1993 Hollywood film. Following his stellar chess career, at age nineteen he took up the martial art Tai Chi ChuanPush Hands and became world champion. It is indeed remarkable that this bright young man excelled at a world class level in two very different disciplines. He says, “I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess. What I am best at is the art of learning.”
There’s nothing wrong with the sideways-glance approach to the philosophical canon. Andrew Shaffer’s Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love is a slim, friendly book that asks a pertinent question: if folks like Saint Thomas Aquinas, Simone de Beauvoir, John Calvin, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emanuel Swedenborg were so smart, how did they manage to meet life’s most personal challenge? Were they able to find true love, and if so were they able to sustain happy long-term relationships? What can we learn from the choices or mistakes they made?
Book review of Wesley for Armchair Theologians (2005),by William J. Abraham
The author, a distinguished Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) says in the preface, “Wesley clearly has a distinctive theology.” It is Abraham’s thesis that this theology is an “intellectual oasis lodged within the traditional faith of the church enshrined in the creeds.” I must admit that I was hooked right there because Ienjoy rational inquiry into things not necessarily rational, remembering Wesley’s famous dictum, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity,” as guide.