Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This (Month) at the Library 9/12

Books this Update:
  • The Zinn Reader and Marx in Soho, Howard Zinn
  • Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories (Volume I), Isaac Asimov
  • The Best of Robert G. Ingersoll, compiled by Roger Greely
  • Saints Behaving Badly, Thomas J. Craughwell
  • Cicero, Anthony Everitt 
It's been a while since I wrote a review post: until Thursday of last week, I was properly innundated by papers. The semester is, by and large, done with: I only have finals week to look forward to, and thus can start doing a little more reading. It's been a while since I did any science reading, so I would appreciate reccommendations from those of you who read in those areas - particularly in the fields of biology and physics.

Nearly a month ago, I read two works by historian and social activist/critic Howard Zinn -- both inspired by the documentary You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. The first, The Zinn Reader, is a large collection of articles, essays, columns, and book forwards written by Zinn over the course of his lifetime and covering a range of subjects -- history, social activism in the United States, civil disobedience, politics, and Marx-esque social criticism. Given the scope of the material,  I was able to see Zinn continually reacting to the social changes of the United States from the late thirties to the late eighties. The book is easily one of the best I've read this year, and it being the pick of the week in the next update -- this one -- became a foregone conclusion. On a similar note -- Marx-esque social criticism -- I read a bit of fiction by Zinn in Marx in Soho.  The powers that be allow Marx to return to the world of the living for an hour to defend himself and his ideas, which he does. Zinn sought to portray Marx not just as a professional intellectual, locked away in his office writing about economics, but as an on-the-ground-revolutionary in his own sense. There were a few choice quotes in there, but I can't share any at the moment as I've lent the book to a friend. You can look up performances of the play on YouTube.  (I've linked to a couple of my favorite performances here.)

After this, I read a selection of quotations from Robert Ingersoll entitled The Best of Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll was a late nineteenth century personality -- a celebrity of sorts in his day, drawing massive crowds to hear him lecture. He was an extraordinarily gifted speeches: even reading the text of them rivets me. I've been meaning to share some of the quotations on my philosophy/humanities blog: one of them will eventually be inserted into this post the next time I access the book. Although the book doesn't contain any full speeches by Ingersoll, it contains an abundance of pithy quotations that will be appreciated by skeptics, atheists, rationalists, skeptics, the liberal religious, science supporters, and especially humanists.

At the beginning of this month, I finished Asimov: the Complete Stories, volume I. It contains two of his short-story collections (Earth is Room Enough and Nine Tomorrows) and is a mix of fantasy and science fiction pieces, with science fiction dominating.  It contains some of my favorite pieces by Asimov, but I can say little more about the stories than I have about Asimovian stories in the past. They're readable, typically contain interesting ideas, and do not bother the reader with gratituous violence, sex, or slams against people Asimov disagreed with.

Saints Behaving Badly is a collection of short chapters about various Catholic saints, attempting to entertain  and encourage traditionally Christian readers who fear their lives aren't up to snuff compared to the saints. The book was rather poor: sources (sometimes legends and rumors) were never criticized, and some of the "sins" seem silly to make a fuss over. The most entertaining thing about this book was the cover art.

Lastly, I read a biography of Cicero, a pleasant high note to end the week (month) on. The book presents a balanced view of Cicero's life and gives the reader plenty of historical and political context to understand the drama of Cicero's life, and the information is presented in a well-paced narrative.

Pick of the Week: The Zinn Reader, as mentioned before.
Quotation of the Week: "Is life worth living? Well, I can only answer for myself. I like to be alive, to breathe the air, to look at the landscape, the clouds, the stars, to repeat old poems, to look at pictures and statues, to hear music, the voices of the ones I live. I enjoy eating and smoking. I like good cold water. I like to talk with my wife, my girls, my grandchildren. I like to sleep and to dream. Yes, you can say that life, to me, is worth living." (Robert Ingersoll, The Best of)

Upcoming Reads:
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh. I think it's meant to establish dialogue between Buddhists and Christians, which may become increasingly important if Americans continue to leave traditional western religion behind for more philosophical worldviews like Buddhism.
  • The Triumph of Caesar  by Steven Saylor: I intended to read this last week, but forgot which library it was in. 
  • Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by a Soldier of the Waffen-SS, Johann Voss. The Waffen-SS, for those not well-versed in World War 2 information, was the military arm of the SS. They saw a lot of action in Russia, and helped maintain the concentration and death camps. I've read about the leaders of the SS before and am interested in what led men to join the darkest part of the Nazi state.
  • When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs, Charles Kimball

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