I was hoping for a higher-level discussion of issues of race, and more of a general review of the latest thinking in cognitive and social psychology.I was hoping for a higher-level discussion of issues of race, and more of a general review of the latest thinking in cognitive and social psychology. There is some of that, but mostly it's sort of a guided discussion on basic questions of racial identity in the United States. The book is probably best for bright high school students, or college students - I hope it's being taught in a lot of high schools. I found it pretty elementary, and gave up on it on page 70. ...more
A masterpiece of autobiography. I would urge anyone to read and learn from this brief, lucid, gripping account of the life, captivity, and eventual esA masterpiece of autobiography. I would urge anyone to read and learn from this brief, lucid, gripping account of the life, captivity, and eventual escape and emancipation of an American slave. His prose, like his personality, sparkles with wit and perspicacity, and his shrewd and careful observations of human psychology are endlessly illuminating with respect to racism, power, and social justice. Douglass was a very great and inspiring figure, and this book instantly joined my shelf of cherished classics. ...more
Fascinating book. There's much to respond to, but for me the aspect that made the biggest impression was the sense of nakedness - that there is no sheFascinating book. There's much to respond to, but for me the aspect that made the biggest impression was the sense of nakedness - that there is no shelter from the elements, no priest in the chapel nor constable at the station, who will shield women and children from the most savage, arbitrary, and undeserved abuse at the hands of monstrous men. There is only power in Bronte's shocking world - the power to harm and control, and the power to endure. Otherwise there's only destruction.
It's profound and disturbing to see rural English life depicted in this way, and one wonders what ghosts haunted the poor Bronte's house to produce such a stark vision of human existence. ...more
This book offers what is to my knowledge the only complete general historiography of Tibet from its prehistory to the present day. It's competently wrThis book offers what is to my knowledge the only complete general historiography of Tibet from its prehistory to the present day. It's competently written and paints an extremely valuable portrait of the Land of Snows, and should most certainly be read by anyone with an interest in Tibetan culture who still subscribes to a romanticized view of pre-invasion Tibet as a peaceful Shambhala of gentle, enlightened monks and cheerful nomads going about their lives in simplicity and quiet. Of course the real story is far more complicated - the Tibetan region is vast, borders several great and highly distinct regions (Central Asia, India, and China), and is subject to all the movers of history that drive events in any land, including factional politics, oligarchs, warlords, peasants, and so forth.
Anyway, it's not the purpose of this review to summarize its contents, but simply to recommend it as the best and only available source for the general reader who wants a survey of Tibetan history. Kapstein is a competent scholar, but he writes in wooden prose and his translations are stilted and utterly devoid of beauty, so I would stop short of hailing this book as a classic of the literature. But it's a much-needed contribution to the field, and there are few non-specialists who will come away from this book without substantially revising at least some aspect of their understanding of the region. ...more
Jenkins presents us with a serviceable and opinionated historical sketch of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasion through the present day. By necessitJenkins presents us with a serviceable and opinionated historical sketch of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasion through the present day. By necessity, this brief book leaps and bounds at full speed through its course. It would be dangerous to read this book in isolation, but it provides a useful big picture view, and I found it a useful framework for pursuing areas of interest for further study. ...more
I remember having a pretty poor experience with Great Expectations in high school, and now that I've gone through another Dickens novel as an adult, II remember having a pretty poor experience with Great Expectations in high school, and now that I've gone through another Dickens novel as an adult, I congratulate my high school self for not listening to my teacher's insistence that we're dealing with a great author here. Good job, younger Barnaby.
Or at least, we have a superlative craftsman, able to order and deliver scenes with clarity and sometimes haunting eloquence. But in my register, his art only partly compensates for his lack of depth.
Scarcely any mention of the Industrial Revolution in England can be made without evoking this didactic novel, which testifies to the social problems associated with this transition. And this is unfortunate, for Dickens goes after the transformation occurring all around him with all the zeal and subtlety of a pamphleteer. I found myself wondering if the William Hogarth was a conscious inspiration, finding echoes of the master engraver's posture of judgement in his "A Rake's Progress" or "Industry and Idleness."
We have something of a moral fable set out in this book. The action is organized in clean lines around three acts. Act one, in which we meet the family Gradgrind, and learn of the obtuse obsession of Master Gradgrind for the world of fact, and for purging human endeavor of all traces of wonder or fancy. Act two, in which his distorted worldview plays out predictably in the lives of his children and their contacts, building toward extreme tension and conflict as the contradictions between the head and the heart escalate. Act three, in which many cathartic speeches are made, various come-uppances are served, and we move toward a clean resolution.
The characters and action move forward like game pieces on a board. We clearly recognize, because it is telegraphed again and again, that the characters are to be understood as types, who exemplify philosophies current in Dickens's day.
But do they? Can there truly ever have been any proponent of any extremist philosophy so patently and transparently misguided as the "Facts, facts, facts!" of Mr. Gradgrind? I doubt it very much.
At the book's worst, which is regrettably often, these characters are ciphers for points of view that have no foundation in human psychology or intellectual history. The villains are so unworthy and duplicitous, the good characters so saintly in their patient suffering, that we can't make contact with any actual subjectivity.
The thing I find most oppressive about Dickens - and it does at times leave me intensely claustrophobic - is the suffocating sense that his characters have no options, and know it. All-too-often they perceive that their lot is their lot, and human dignity consists largely in their capacity to bear it in good stead. If they are born to labor, then labor they must, and they will, and do not seek outside of their station, whatever hardship or suffering it entails.
Clearly this is no acceptable normative posture, unless one is a rather retrograde fatalist. But is it descriptive? Is this how lives really were lived in Victorian England? Was Dickens merely chronicling the lack of opportunity of his day?
I don't really believe it, because Dickens himself was such manifest counter-testimony to that dire vision of history. In classic Dickensian fashion, he lacked a formal education because of his father's incarceration in debtor's prison, which obliged him to work in factories rather than study. Did he bear his grisly lot with the good patience of a saint? No, he refused to accede to the implications of his class and status, and quite overcame his limitations, becoming one of the most famous writers of his day.
So why are all his characters haunted by the grim certitude that if they are born to deprivation, then deprivation they must accept? I can't imagine.
In sum, I find Dickens an author of great craft but minimal insight. He panders to his readers with melodrama consisting primarily of shallow moralizing that is tedious and quite inaccurate. ...more
Often entertaining and sometimes illuminating, this book is an imaginative attempt to ground Shakespeare's works in his times. It will be of special iOften entertaining and sometimes illuminating, this book is an imaginative attempt to ground Shakespeare's works in his times. It will be of special interest to readers who are equally drawn to the history of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's work, as the purely historical exposition constitutes a large part of the book. Surveys works written in and around 1599, which Shapiro identifies as Henry V, Julius Cesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. I liked some of his closest readings best, and particularly found his reading of As You Like It insightful. I was somewhat disappointed with his reading of Hamlet - he went to some length to set up the context for reading it as about the transition from the old age of chivalry to the new age of modernity, but ended up focusing on revisions Shakespeare made to the play, which was less compelling.
Taken with a grain of salt, it's a worthwhile read. ...more
Arkoun's "Rethinking Islam" is the most useful analysis of the Muslim world I have yet encountered. The book is organized into 24 chapters based on 24Arkoun's "Rethinking Islam" is the most useful analysis of the Muslim world I have yet encountered. The book is organized into 24 chapters based on 24 basic questions (e.g., "When was the Quran written and what does it contain?" and "What is the relationship between Islam, science, and philosophy?"). Instead of presenting simple, didactic answers, Arkoun takes common answers to these questions a starting point for critically reflecting on the origins and legitimacy of common beliefs about Islam, and illustrates how to move forward.
Arkoun is unquestionably one of the most penetrating critical theorists in the social sciences that I've encountered, and his engagement with the often-stereotyped constructions of Islamic history and culture are exceedingly thought-provoking and invigorating.
One of his core concepts is the cultural "imaginay," which describes a collective idea characterizing a complex domain such as "Islam," which is shaped and constrained by the forces of ideology, media, social capital, the irrational unconscious, and so forth. Arkoun regards discourse about Islam today as largely governed by two imaginaries, one coming out of Muslim countries themselves, and a counterpart in Europe and the US.
The typical Muslim imaginary is a reductive account of Islamic society and history which holds that its current forms of expression are a logical and inevitable evolute deriving from a well-regulated and ahistorical set of principles derived from the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic law. This construction is typically articulated and defended by autocratic governments, which use it to bolster their own legitimacy. Critical voices are marginalized or suppressed within these governments and academes, and consequently the standard tools of social criticism that would generally look to the role of ideology or the irrational in shaping self-concepts of history are silenced.
For a variety of bad reasons, this highly-distorted self-construction is reflected back by scholars in Europe and the United States who should know better, either out of a naive wish to let the putatively indigenous self-construction and valuation of Islamic identity speak for itself and on its own terms, or out of a cynical desire to capitalize on such simplistic version of history and identity for their own aims, e.g., to characterize Islam in the language of alterity.
Arkoun makes a compelling case for the vital need for a methodologically-sophisticated critical engagement with the history of Islam, principally because such methodologies hold the key (or at least a key) to unlocking the plurality and heterogeneity of Islamic self-constructions that have been in competition since the time of the Prophet and down through the present day.
So this is what I take to be Arkoun's general model. In this book he shows it in action in the context of two dozen fundamental questions which shape our understanding of Islam. In thinking through each question as a problematic that is bursting with possibilities for rich new types of inquiry, he illustrates by example the incredibly fertile new ground he anticipates, shedding much-needed light and fresh air on many of the old saws that are recapitulated again and again to this day (e.g., Islam is essentially antirational; Islamic states are eo ipso theocratic; Islamic states perceive all other types of social organization as adversaries to be one day conquered, and on and on).
It should be emphasized that his method is fundamentally dialectical. That is, he does not wish to reduce the analysis of Islam to the subject of European analytical tools and categories. On the contrary, a proper critical engagement with Islam necessarily furthers the project of European post-Enlightenment self-criticism at the same time, and it opens up a new conceptual counterpart to engage reason in self-reflection.
This is an exciting book that I'd highly recommend to anyone interested in social criticism or critical theory, and/or anyone with a moderate knowledge of Islam. It's guaranteed to challenge your thinking on bedrock issues. ...more
Really not the book I was looking for. I was hoping for a historical overview of Hadith, a review of some of the major collections, a look at some theReally not the book I was looking for. I was hoping for a historical overview of Hadith, a review of some of the major collections, a look at some the key compilers, and a discussion of how Hadith material is received and valued by various Muslim societies.
I didn't really get any of that - it's a highly-technical close examination of much more specialized topics, moving breathlessly through long lists of Arabic names and untranslated titles of works. I suppose it's intended for an audience of specialists.
I don't love that the author says nothing about Shia Hadtih, other than he doesn't know anything about it and won't consider it. I don't know, maybe you should find out a bit about it if you're writing this book?
I also fundamentally disagree with its method and criteria. It's written from the perspective of an insider of the tradition, and doesn't employ what from my frame of values are the basic critical tools of scholarship. I do not agree, for example, that we can trust the works from a particular period because it was a time of great piety, and the reasons why are so manifold that I can't imagine arguing the point. I can only say the author is speaking from a totally different set of axioms than I am.