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One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. -Nietzsche

  July 14, 2008

What I've Been Reading

Finding modern books worth reading is an exercise in pleasant accidents and improbable coincidences that bring awareness of intelligent and useful books despite the noise produced by promotion of millions of inferior works. May you too gain from these lucky mistakes and these joys also be yours!

The Discovery of France by Graham Robb

A hundred years ago there was no France, just a bunch of dissimilar towns that were doing the same as they had done for thousands of years. Neither was their a French language outside of Paris, though some "French" people had learned a few years of French as a second language.

This book makes it clear with detailed research and historical examples that the ancient past is not so ancient, and in many cases continues on still today.

The Northern Crusades by Eric Christiansen

The battles to tame the last of the European heathens raged for centuries as the bringers of Judeo-Christian submission forced their gifts upon people who had previously lived in accordance with nature and reality. Despite widespread pagan genocide by the Judeo-Christians, isolated populations continued living as they always had, still holding true to their values and beliefs, unaware of who claimed rule over profitable cities or of the Middle Eastern religion promoted by the occupiers.

The Economist Magazine

If you are able to read one magazine, it should be the Economist. The title reveals its perspective: all stories are seen through the eyes of how money can be made from world events -- a very stupid and short-sighted viewpoint -- but the factual reporting is top-notch, insightful, and focused on pragmatic analysis.

The moralizing and desire to equalize everything for the sake of easy commerce is understandable given the goals of their readership, but once you get past that there is no better news source for a quick but potent summary of world events.

The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis

As cancer rates rise along with the unchecked use of cancer-causing chemicals and toxic waste, the depth of knowledge about cancer within the medical profession has been declining. Davis takes the reader through the history of what has been known about cancer and how much has been lost along the years as if indifference, human weakness, or deliberate sabotage took its toll. Though it is often repeated that curing cancer is not profitable but prolonged treatments can earn millions of dollars in insurance fees, Davis paints a picture of a profession that was once on the verge of curing cancer but now struggles and fails to retain awareness of what once was known.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Perhaps the only living example of a traditional scholar, Nassim Taleb enjoys puncturing the self-inflated who presume to know far more than they really do. In an age where people bestow titles upon themselves and everyone imagines themselves the smartest guy in the room, Taleb effortlessly points out the carnage of errors and presumptions piled upon one another so the inevitable collapse can be understood before it occurs.

In this book, Taleb focuses on rare events that are not predictable or even considered in standard analysis, yet are often definitive, whether as field-changing innovations or a perfect storm of financial events. His emphasis is on clean, detailed thinking about what is really known and how to look forward understanding past extreme events that were not predicted, yet took place with highly impacting results.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations serves as a Traditional holy book that provides wisdom and counseling in difficult times. Its spirituality is deep, its advice eternal, and its lessons easily demonstrated. It is a good antidote to individuality and helpfully reminds that personal lives are short and the larger whole is what matters, but the self is completely unimportant.

Paired with long walks, Meditations will clarify the deepest and most troubling questions when given the proper quiet, reflection, and receptivity.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

These extra calories are from nutrient-deficient food. It began with refined flour in the 1870s which removed bran and wheat germ to produce long-lasting snowy white flour. Consumers loved it because flour no longer turned rancid, and it didn't become infected with bugs.

Okay. Why didn't bugs chomp down on this new flour? Quite simply because the nutrients, the bran, wheat germ, carotene, were gone. Pollan explains, ". . . this gorgeous white powder was nutritionally worthless, or nearly so. Much the same is now true for corn flour and white rice." Take a look at a package of white flour and count the additives that make up for the loss of natural ingredients. Then you'll understand the basic thrust of this book and its remedies.

Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes and Asides from Nation Review by William Buckley

Who knew that William F. Buckley Jr., the quintessential conservative, invented the blog decades before the World Wide Web came into existence? National Review, like nearly all magazines, has always published letters from readers. In 1967 the magazine decided that certain letters merited different treatment, and Buckley, the editor, began a column called Notes & Asides, in which he personally answered the most notable and outrageous letters. The selections in this book, culled from four decades of these columns, include exchanges with such figures as Ronald Reagan, Eric Sevareid, Richard Nixon, A. M. Rosenthal, Auberon Waugh, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. There are also hilarious exchanges with ordinary readers, as well as letters from Buckley to various organizations and government agencies.

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