Jul 15 2010

Psychology and Alchemy by C.G. Jung

The word “alchemy” in the title is suggestive of the scientific merit of this book. Jung seems to believe that psychological wisdom can be found in the writings of the alchemists, and in this work he pores over their texts in search of his own Philosopher’s Stone. The texts are far out to begin with, but Jung’s interpretations of them are even more far out. To say I “read” this book is perhaps an exaggeration; most of it was beyond the realm of readability. Freud takes a lot of heat these days for being unscientific, but compared to Jung’s bottomless penchant for mumbo-jumbo he seems positively rigorous. If you’re looking for insights in this book, it seems to me you can find just about anything you’re looking for; Jung can turn a cake recipe into font of hidden knowledge. Alchemy has been discredited in favor of chemistry; I leave it to other readers to judge how closely Jung’s theories approach scientific psychology.

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Jun 14 2010

Mr. Untouchable by Leroy Barnes

It’s hard not to read a book like this and feel like you’ve been a chump all your life for being an honest man. Leroy Barnes spent many years in prison paying for his misdeeds, but while he was at the top of his game he was awash in money, drugs, women, and adventures. The Council, the organization he created, initially sounds like a sinister cabal of drug lords, but to hear him tell it he was the only one with any business sense and the others were two-bit hustlers. But the story gets really interesting as he winds up his life in prison and, in revenge for being double-crossed, decides to destroy the organization he created. In the final chapter he waxes philosophical about why black organized crime is not as successful as the Italian mafia, and chalks it up to the Italians having a cohesive family culture and blacks growing up in fractured families. He seems sorry that his life took this turn–but because he went to prison, not because of all the lives he destroyed with drugs.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/06/14/mr-untouchable-by-leroy-barnes/

Jun 14 2010

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

This is Stephen King’s fantasy remake of The Magnificent Seven. Not one of the best ones in the series, but still pretty good. King’s prose is sometimes rather clunky, but his imagination never fails him. And I must say that this series reveals a side of King not seen in his other works. For a fantasy writer, he seems to have a very stark, gritty, austere philosophy of life, a pitiless sense that the world is not a place for weaklings or cowards. This novel is not a masterpiece of storytelling, but it is perhaps the most potent expression of the King philosophy I have read so far. And I am waiting with bated breath to find out what is in the top room of the Dark Tower.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/06/14/wolves-of-the-calla-by-stephen-king/

Jun 03 2010

Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox

All historians have heroes, and Alexander is clearly the author’s hero. He offers contrived explanations for what might be perceived as Alexander’s misdeeds, and he conveniently dismisses as fictitious any source that might cast his hero in a negative light. This was not the most objective biography, but to a great extent I share Fox’s admiration for Alexander and his unparalleled achievements. All the sources agree that Alexander was an extraordinary individual, and even those who dismiss him as a bloodthirsty tyrant must give him his due. Clearly the man is worthy of his cognomen, and this book does justice to his greatness.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/06/03/alexander-the-great-by-robin-lane-fox/

May 02 2010

Madame de Stael by Francine du Plessix Gray

The subject of this book is an extraordinary individual, yet I find myself disliking her. Mme de Stael was brilliantly eloquent, audaciously spirited, and a gifted writer, yet there is an overwhelmingly histrionic side to her personality that makes it impossible for me to take her seriously. There is much in her that seems to exemplify the French national character: wittiness, charm, and an endless capacity for love affairs. But she did not lack courage: she was an outspoken critic of Napoleon when it was dangerous to be one. This book also reveals a boorish, anti-intellectual side to Napoleon that is remarkably ugly. A good profile of an outstanding personality.

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Apr 24 2010

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Never has misanthropy been so eloquently expressed. Timon’s reversal of fortune serves as a cautionary admonition to our craving for material prosperity, as well as a cynical lesson on the fickle nature of men. The cynic Apemantus emerges as the wisest character in this story of riches to rags, yet even he is not spared Timon’s caustic calumnies. The conquering traitor Alcibiades is given the last word, dictating terms to Athens and demonstrating that states and communities are subject to the same vicissitudes of fortune as individuals. This play was bleak but memorable, if only because Timon’s curses on humanity will be ringing in my ears for a long time to come.

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Apr 12 2010

A History of Europe by J.M. Roberts

This is a big book, but not quite big enough to adequately cover 3000 years of history. Ancient Greece is covered in twenty pages, the Roman Empire in forty. However, the later chapters on the hegemonic years of Europe, when Europe was the center of power, culture, and civilization in the world, are quite interesting. 1914 was the end of this hegemony, not just in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of Europeans themselves, and 1945 relegated Europe to second class status in the competition between superpowers. This book was written before 2001; with a remarkable lack of foresight and acumen, the author acknowledges that in the aftermath of the Cold War some on the West are coming to see radical Islam as the new emerging threat, then he proceeds to dismiss the radical Islamic threat as nothing but an irrational bogey. History frequently proves historians wrong. But this was a good single-volume European history, although not quite as good as the Norman Davies book.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/04/12/a-history-of-europe-by-j-m-roberts/

Mar 28 2010

Mugabe: Teacher, Revolutionary, and Tyrant by Andrew Norman

This book reminds me that biographies are often the best source of history. I recently read a book on the history of Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t nearly as informative as this book. The arc of Mugabe’s life reads almost like a Greek tragedy. He had very promising beginnings indeed. A brilliant scholar, a dedicated teacher, a courageous political activist who remained unbowed and unbroken after years of incarceration–in the early phase of his career there was little indication of the cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant he would eventually become. But the greater tragedy is for the people of Zimbabwe who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of his despotic regime. Even the white colonial rulers were not as much of disaster for the people of this country as Mugabe has been. Is Africa truly better off for having gained its independence? As much as I have studied Africa, I am not sure that I can answer this affirmatively.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/03/28/mugabe-teacher-revolutionary-and-tyrant-by-andrew-norman/

Mar 13 2010

The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom by Sandra Mackey

This book is about what happens when a hopelessly backward society is suddenly flooded with wealth and forced to modernize overnight. Of all the Islamic countries that are facing a crisis of modernity, Saudi Arabia has been the hardest hit. The Saudis have a bottomless appetite for the material goodies the West has to offer, but they still for the most part totally reject Western culture and have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from it. Paradoxically, while they are forced to acknowledge their educational and technological inferiority to Westerners, they still believe fervently that their rigidly conservative Islamic culture is superior, and they are deeply resentful of the intrusions Western culture has made into their society. Although this book was written in the ’80’s, it goes a long way toward explaining why fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 hijackers were Saudi.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2010/03/13/the-saudis-inside-the-desert-kingdom-by-sandra-mackey/

Feb 21 2010

Truman by David McCullough

This book is a case study in how extraordinary an ordinary man can be. Unlike his predecessor in the White House, Harry Truman was not a brilliant man, but he possessed character and fortitude that ultimately made him a successful president. At times the author seems to revel a little too much in how ordinary Truman was, at the expense of highlighting his outstanding qualities, but McCullough seems to see his subject as an embodiment of what is best in the American national character, a kind of virtuous American everyman. This thesis surely goes too far, but McCullough’s portrait is touchingly human, if not exactly the profile of a genius. This book was not as good as McCullough’s biography of John Adams, but it is still a landmark work of American history.

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