Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Image and reality

July 16, 2006

Martha Nussbaum’s review of Harvey Mansfield’s book Manliness is a demonstration of what can make a book review worthwhile. She explores not just the intellectual failings of a book purported to be an intellectual work, but goes on to examine how those failings could plausibly have been a deliberate attempt to increase Mansfield’s appeal and marketability to a certain audience.

Nussbaum shows how the image of “Harvey Mansfield” differs from the reality of Harvey Mansfield. That sort of exposé is necessary but too rare.

Image is nearly empty when detached from reality. An intellectual image so detached can do little more than provide a brief thrill of knowingness that seems like knowledge before you stop to think about it.

Humility is a virtue because it restrains us to the hard work of reality when the easy charm of image tempts us. And when people are not humble, as with Professor Mansfield, sometimes it is in the public interest to humble them.


Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong

October 1, 2005

Most discussions in the United States about France and the French are more heat than light, which makes this enlightening book especially welcome.

The authors are two Canadians who moved to France for two years (1999-2001) in order to understand how the French are different from North Americans. Some of the points they made:



April 28, 2005

Mark Hasty tags me as someone who reads. (It’s the librarian job that tips people off, isn’t it?)

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I’ve never read Fahrenheit 451, but I think I understand the question (didn’t characters memorize books before they were burned?). I would choose the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes, but I can’t remember which one.

The last book you bought is:
The Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill. An anthropological study of the structure and culture of malls. Good.

The last book you read:
China, Inc. by Ted C. Fishman. A readable account of the rise, extent, and possible future of Chinese manufacturing, and how it is affecting the economics of other countries.

What are you currently reading?
Volume 29 of the collected writings of G. K. Chesterton, comprising his newspaper columns from 1911 to 1913. I wish someone wrote newspaper columns as well today. Also, I borrowed Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides from my sister, and will start reading it soon.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
1. The Odyssey by Homer. What better place to read it?
2. Heretics by G. K. Chesterton. For the style.
3. From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. To remind me of Western culture.
4. The Heart of Rock & Soul by Dave Marsh. To remind me of a lot of great songs.
5. The World Almanac. I’m an incurable trivia buff.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Glenn Reynolds, Josh Marshall, and Andrew Sullivan. Why not?

Bush at War

May 29, 2004

I have finally read Bush at War, Bob Woodward’s application of his patented you-are-there-right-now technique to the workings of the Bush White House after September 11. As with all of Woodward’s books, it is a compelling and breezy read. A good sign about it is that I doubt its contents would surprise either Bush’s supporters or his detractors were they to read (or re-read) it today; the book strikes me as a basically accurate rendering that can be interpreted in a number of ways.


How to respond to bigoted remarks

May 23, 2004

Several years ago, I read Encountering Bigotry: Befriending Projecting Persons in Everyday Life, a book that is now out of print.

I came across my notes from the book, and thought they might be of interest:


Wallace by Marshall Frady

March 15, 2004

I recently read Wallace, a biography of George Wallace written by Marshall Frady (who died earlier this month). My two main reactions:

1. What a hatchet job…

2. …but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Book Review: The Info Mesa

September 13, 2003

I have given up on Ed Regis’ book, The Info Mesa (Norton, 2003), because of the shallowness of the writing. The final straw:

Unfortunately, all this business activity had taken its toll, and in 1972 he and his first wife divorced. He remarried two years later, however, and he and his new spouse, […], both of them being good Catholics, would wind up raising six kids. [page 50]

“Catholics have a lot of kids” is cliché, and calling a man a “good Catholic” right after mentioning his divorce and re-marriage is careless (and, judging from the tone of the book, not meant as irony or sarcasm).

It’s a shame that The Info Mesa is such a weak popularization — its subject, the Silicon Valley-like grouping of information science companies around Santa Fe, is worthy of and could provide the material for a good general-interest book.