A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

I read this book twenty years ago, but on rereading it I got much more out of it. This survey begins with the pre-Socratics and ends with John Dewey; it does not include the existentialists or the post-modernists, who were not yet influential when this book was written (1943). Russell gives a synopsis of each of the contributions of the great philosophers and offers his own critique of each as well. Many of the ideas of the philosophers are quite profound, but it must also be said that many of them seem quite foolish. It seems that almost any reasonable idea pushed to its logical extreme will result in folly or madness. Russell implicitly gives assent to the proposition that ultimately the truth is something that can never be known, but he does not, as many modern philosophers do, assert that truth itself does not exist. But this book was a wonderful journey through intellectual history and a marvelous adventure for the mind. A good primer for a difficult subject.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/11/11/a-history-of-western-philosophy-by-bertrand-russell/

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson

Not sure why this book is such a sensation; I found most of it pretty boring, and the author obviously enjoyed writing about the rape and murder of women WAY too much. I don’t think I care to read the other two books in the series, but maybe my mood will change after I get the bad taste of this one out of my mouth.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/11/08/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-by-stieg-larrson/

Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders by Aaron Beck

The central idea of cognitive therapy is that mood disorders are caused by internal delusions or self-deceptions, and that it you can correct the delusional perception, you will correct the the disorder. Beck argues in effect that people can be talked out of their mental illnesses, and as naive as this idea sounds in the face of mental illnesses that seem intractable, cognitive therapy has proven to have the same success rate in treating mood disorders as pharmacological treatments. The way to treat depression, for instance, is to teach the patient to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk; the way to treat anxieties and phobias is to demonstrate to the patient that the source of his fear is in fact something relatively harmless. There are obviously effective and ineffective ways to go about this; it is not quite as simple as it seems, but it is a much more common sense approach than psychoanalysis and has fewer side effects than drug treatments. I want to learn more…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/10/20/cognitive-therapy-and-the-emotional-disorders-by-aaron-beck/

With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge

Reading this gut-wrenching memoir has definitely cured me of any desire to be a hero. E.B. Sledge writes graphically but unaffectedly of war and its horrors, and of the heroic young men who fought against the Japanese in the Second World War. The account is inspiring, of admiration if not exactly emulation. Particularly gruesome is reading about Sledge good-naturedly joking with a Marine buddy, then reading in a footnote that the buddy never made it back home. It’s hard to read a book like this and not come away feeling very small and unworthy, but I remain content to leave my manhood untested and unproven.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/10/19/with-the-old-breed-by-e-b-sledge/

The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus

Tacitus is the greatest of the Roman historians. He is also the most prejudiced. Modern historians have called into question his portrayal of Tiberius as a cruel and depraved tyrant, and indeed Tacitus’ own narrative reveals him for the most part a capable ruler. Tacitus is always insinuating that while Tiberius said and did one thing, he was secretly thinking something else; how he had access to the emperor’s private thoughts is a mystery. Claudius the stammering fool likewise seems a highly effective ruler; he brought Gauls into the Senate, ruled with great clemency, and conquered Britian for the Roman Empire, something not even Julius Caesar was able to do. The story of Caligula is omitted, but no crime of Nero escapes mention. Tacitus clearly feels that autocracy is evil and has caused the decline of Rome; it is too bad that we cannot ask the common people of the Empire whether the emperors were in fact any worse than the senatorial oligarchy that Tacitus upheld.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/10/16/the-annals-of-imperial-rome-by-tacitus/

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I had a hard time getting into this story, but halfway into it I couldn’t put it down. The main problem for me was the protagonist, who isn’t very likeable and isn’t someone I felt like rooting for. But once the Games begin the pages begin to turn very quickly. This is a gut-wrenching story that doesn’t leave you with a very good feeling about humanity, and I’m not sure that I want to read the other two books in the trilogy. But in terms of pure storytelling, this book is a fine effort, although it seems suspiciously crafted for cinematic adaptation. Realistic? Depends on how you look at the world, although the book’s perspective is refreshingly distant from the Randism that is currently making a comeback.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/10/10/the-hunger-games-by-suzanne-collins/

Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King

I recently finished the Dark Tower series, which is mostly fantasy rather than horror, so I had forgotten how utterly creepy Stephen King’s imagination can be. I had been of the opinion that King peaked in the 80’s and had lost his touch since then, but this collection of stories has forced me to revise that opinion somewhat. Some of these stories really creeped me out, but all of them were seriously entertaining. King has never yet produced a single work of fiction with serious literary merit, a fact of which he himself is all too aware, but his ability to spin an enthralling story is unsurpassed. These stories won’t give you much to think about…but they just might make you sleep with the lights on.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/09/28/nightmares-and-dreamscapes-by-stephen-king/

The Early History of Rome by Livy

One thing is clear from this history: from the founding of the Republic, class warfare was endemic to Rome. Rome was perpetually at war with her neighbors, but was politically at war with herself for much of her history. It seems the aristocracy used war and external threats as a means to stall the popular demands for reform; since Rome was almost always at war, reform was thus indefinitely deferred. Livy is clearly on the side of the aristocracy, yet even he puts some noble and stirring speeches in the mouths of the tribunes. Livy is too conservative and patriotic to be objective, and he has no head at all for military matters, but he captures the divisive politics of early Rome more clearly than he intended, since he makes clear from the beginning that his aim is to show how glorious and virtuous Rome was in the good old days before vice and decadence set in. There is much in this work that could have been left out with no loss to posterity, but the overall theme is timeless.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/09/21/the-early-history-of-rome-by-livy/

The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor

The writing and the research of this book is first rate, but still, reading endless accounts of the orgy of mass rape committed by the Red Army in 1945 is quite disheartening. Stalin from the beginning intended that the Soviet army would reach Berlin before the Western Allies, but he deliberately misled Churchill and Eisenhower to conceal his motives. The German people certainly suffered during this war, but it is disturbing how after the war hardly any of them perceived how they had brought this disaster on themselves. Many had no sense of moral burden and seemed to feel that the only thing they had done wrong was let themselves be defeated. The Soviets likewise did not cover themselves with glory in the war’s aftermath; a large portion of the Red Army that had seen the better living standards of Germany with their own eyes and had begun to doubt the efficiency of state socialism were deemed subversive and sent to Gulags. A miserable chapter in history that is worth remembering.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/09/18/the-fall-of-berlin-1945-by-antony-beevor/

An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson

This book goes a long way toward dismissing the notion that America’s triumph in World War II was inevitable. Operation Torch in North Africa was full of mistakes and setbacks for the Allies, with generals blaming each other for failures and British and Americans viewing each other with contempt and mistrust. The French, contrary to myth of heroic resistance they fabricated about themselves after the war, proved more valiant in fighting for the Nazis than in fighting against them. But above all this is the story of America’s reluctant evolution from isolationist pacifism into the warrior nation it would eventually become, with both soldiers and leaders gradually learning the deadly art of war. This experience transformed Eisenhower from a raw West Point cadet into a first class world leader, and thus he serves as a metaphor for the transformation of America’s role in the world brought about by this war. A very good book, fortunately written by a journalist rather than a historian.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/09/04/an-army-at-dawn-by-rick-atkinson/