Tredennick's translation is getting a little old-fashioned now (it was published in 1954 and last revised in 1969), but this remains one of the more aTredennick's translation is getting a little old-fashioned now (it was published in 1954 and last revised in 1969), but this remains one of the more accessible of Plato's works for the non-academic reader. It comprises four short works: Socrates' discussion with a friend before his trial; his speeches at the trial itself; a conversation after his conviction; and his last conversation and death.
What surprises the modern reader is the depth of humour and humanity on show. We expect classical texts to be dry, complicated and formal, but Socrates comes across as a real human being, mixing razor-sharp logic with gentle humour and even teasing. This is largely because his talent was not thinking but forcing others to think. He can also be frustratingly tactless, especially in the Apology (his speeches at the trial), almost goading the jury to condemn him.
After his death sentence, he spurns the chance to escape, arguing with infuriating logic that he is innocent because he has always been a loyal subject of Athens. If he ran away he would become guilty of subverting the laws of Athens and would thereby earn the death sentence he has already been given. His argument falls somewhere between Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative.
Phaedo: the final piece and longer than all the others combined; is the report of his final conversations with his followers and ends with him taking the prescribed poison and dying.
It's also the least satisfactory. Partly this is because Socrates' arguments seem too formally structured, giving the impression that this is really Plato's philosophy, and partly because the 'unassailable' logic about the soul and the afterlife is so obviously flawed. Several times he asks his audience whether they have any objections to his reasoning. "None, Socrates," they reply, while I'm jumping up and down saying, "Me, me! I've got one! Your theory is based on a huge assumption that you've said nothing to justify."
Still, if Socrates had all the answers then the next 2,500 years of philosophy would have been pointless. But the genesis of Western thought and critical reasoning is here. ...more
In seeking to be oh-so-clever, HHhH abandons fiction, history and narrative in favour of a post-modern meta-narrative that becomes so tangled and confIn seeking to be oh-so-clever, HHhH abandons fiction, history and narrative in favour of a post-modern meta-narrative that becomes so tangled and confused that it undermines itself at every turn. Binet claims to despise fiction, yet his book is classified as fiction, yet nothing in it is fictitious – unless the story about how the book was researched is itself fictitious. But if so, the whole premise of Binet’s obsession with truth falls to the ground, because how can a book obsessed with telling the truth require the reader to do his own research to determine whether the author is telling the truth or not? More importantly, it’s boring.
Binet flails between fact and speculation, and despite his stated veneration of facts and contempt for fiction, he gets many of his facts wrong. He claims to have seen the damage to the rear door of Heydrich’s car, even though the car didn’t have a rear door; he says that Heydrich changed the spelling of his first name – a claim found nowhere else – and he declares that the Hussite rebellion was crushed at the Battle of White Mountain, which didn’t happen till two centuries later.
HHhH is confused and muddled, neither fiction nor non-fiction, neither story nor history, with a pedestrian style that’s easy enough on the eye but hardly great prose, and the lack of page numbers is a pretentious irritation.
Binet totters from denouncing fiction to filling his account with baseless speculation. He wants to make his story personal but makes it impossible to care about him, making his account of his research bland, impersonal and tedious. It’s all flat, self-indulgent anecdote and I’m baffled as to how Binet – still less his publisher – imagined that anyone would care. Giving a book an unusual structure isn’t enough to make it a classic, whatever Martin Amis says. Most of the time it comes across as simply lazy, not to mention arrogant and hypocritical.
Considering the fulsome praise it has received, HHhH is a monumental disappointment. ...more
A quarter of the way through this book, I was ready to throw it across the room. I'm glad I didn't.
The charmless and self-obsessed David pursues VictoA quarter of the way through this book, I was ready to throw it across the room. I'm glad I didn't.
The charmless and self-obsessed David pursues Victoria through the streets of Paris for four hours, forgetting about his daughter's birthday party and losing her present along the way. Rather than call the police, Victoria agrees to meet him in London, where they indulge in one of the most tedious conversations ever recorded between two human beings. They discuss architecture and politics, rather than comment on the only remarkable aspect of dinner: the fact that either their table keeps changing size or that Victoria has extendible arms, such that at one moment they can barely touch their fingers across the table and the next Victoria is able to spoon-feed David without leaving her seat.
David talks like a written submission to the general assembly of the Socialist Workers' Party, while Victoria's conversation resembles a press release from the Institute of Directors. David also tells her about his plans for houses on rails, whereby residents will wake up to find their next-door neighbours' barbecue outside their patio door while their lawnmower is now in their other neighbour's garden along with the kids' bicycles and the koi carp. For all her business acumen, Victoria fails to laugh out loud at this idiotic scheme, sealing their relationship.
By the end of dinner, each of them is so smitten at having found someone who can listen to them without chewing their leg off that they repair to David's hotel, where they rut like accountants for four hours.
…and then the story picks up, becoming an existentialist political thriller in the old French style. David's thoroughly dislikeable, self-obsessed, whining neuroticism carries us through a tale of sexual obsession that destroys both characters. It still falls down on the dialogue, which reads like carefully prepared statements, and on the implausibility of Victoria falling so heavily for someone as pompous as David. The running theme of David's corruption by Victoria's capitalist morals underpins the story, but this is balanced by his strange sexual dysfunction: he can't reach orgasm. Victoria represents the alluring corruption of capitalism: David finally achieves release at the moment he completely succumbs morally, and in that moment he becomes unable to save Victoria.
'The Victoria System' represents the dance between opposites in French political life: David is a builder and Victoria a destroyer, and the antagonism between left and right is actually what keeps both alive. In that sense 'The Victoria System' is a political allegory in the best tradition of Sartre and Camus. ...more
It's my first brush with Simenon, so I'm expecting this 1938 roman dur to be something a bit noir and a bit psychological: somewhere between Albert CaIt's my first brush with Simenon, so I'm expecting this 1938 roman dur to be something a bit noir and a bit psychological: somewhere between Albert Camus and Raymond Chandler. I was close on the first call: The Book With A Title Too Long To Quote In Full does seem to foreshadow Camus' The Stranger, but it quickly becomes clear that this is a satire, not a thriller. Time to reorganise those Goodreads shelves again.
When his boss tells Kees Popinga that the company, and thus Kees himself, is on the brink of ruin, the mild-mannered, responsible family man decides to shrug off all socially imposed conventions and do whatever he pleases. Step one is to abandon his family, step on a train and seduce his former boss's mistress. She has other ideas and laughs so hard that he leaves her gagged on her hotel bed and debunks to Paris. Unfortunately, he gags her too tight and she dies, leading to a manhunt through the streets of the French capital.
Simeonon has great fun puncturing Popinga's confused vanity: having declared that he is free from social conventions and the opinions of others, he then sits down and writes lengthy, self-justifying screeds to the newspapers complaining about how he has been misrepresented and misunderstood. In his new, 'free' life he is even more a slave to society's opinion than he ever was before....more
This is a terrific translation of one of the earliest surviving histories of Alexander the Great. Arrian, writing in the 2nd Century AD and evoking thThis is a terrific translation of one of the earliest surviving histories of Alexander the Great. Arrian, writing in the 2nd Century AD and evoking the similarly megalomaniac efforts of his contemporary, the Roman emperor Trajan, tells the story of Alexander's incredible conquests over four centuries earlier.
There are two works to review here: Arrian's narrative and Hammond's translation. Both, within the confines of their commissions, are excellent. Arrian doesn't have the benefit of modern scholarship, while Hammond can't deviate from Arrian's narrative regardless of newer discoveries.
Arrian is perhaps second only to Herodotus among ancient historians, because he details his sources and comments on their plausibility. He tries to separate history from myth in a very modern way, trying to tell the true history while explaining why he deviates from the accounts of other authors, often commenting (to put it in modern terms), "Well, if you want to believe that story, you can." Even modern historians sometimes find it hard to let the reader make up his own mind, so Arrian is ahead of his time here.
On the other side, Hammond has produced and excellent translation, free of the turgid style that often characterises translations of ancient texts. The Anabasis is a very readable account of Alexander and can be read purely for pleasure and not just as a historian's duty. ...more
There's a lot to be said for this book, but it's desperately flawed. Clearly we're supposed to learn about protagonist Johnny through his friends andThere's a lot to be said for this book, but it's desperately flawed. Clearly we're supposed to learn about protagonist Johnny through his friends and family rather than directly, but he is too enigmatic to uderstand without a more direct narrative style. So he's arrogant, shy, confident, reserved, manipulative and weak whenever the plot requires him to be any of those things, without regard to the glaring inconsistencies of those positions. ...more
For all the praise it's received, Story Of A Secret State isn't an action-packed read. Karski was more of an administrator in the Polish underground tFor all the praise it's received, Story Of A Secret State isn't an action-packed read. Karski was more of an administrator in the Polish underground than a fighter, so anyone looking for stories about raids, sabotage and armed resistance might be a little disappointed. Also, the book is a reprint of what he wrote in 1943-44, so it lacks the perspective that comes from our fuller knowledge of events that only came to light after the war. Most obviously, he only has the haziest notion of how fortuitous his escape from the Russians was, since most of those who stayed became victims of the Katyn massacre.
But Karski's account is a vital document that reveals just how vigorously the Poles resisted the Nazis - a story that became lost as Poland was subsumed into the Soviet sphere after the war and all stories of non-Communist resistance were suppressed. For sure, his account is coloured by his patriotism, but the story he tells is real enough.
Least engaging are the accounts of how the Polish state reorganised itself into an underground operation, because the details of administration were more interesting to his wartime readers than to us now. The best stories are of his early trials, including his capture by and escape from the Gestapo while trying to reach France via Slovakia, and his account of the Jewish ghetto and an undercover visit to a death camp.
Within that context, Karski's quiet heroism makes for a vital tale of one of the less well-known areas of the war in Europe....more