This is Marmite at its best – love it or hate it, it’s unlikely to leave you undecided.
At its most straightforward, it is a simplistically written...more This is Marmite at its best – love it or hate it, it’s unlikely to leave you undecided.
At its most straightforward, it is a simplistically written tale of a nameless Spanish shepherd who sells his flock and travels to Egypt to find treasure. It is easy to see how the basic narrative and seemingly banal plot could be irksome to folks. It’s unrealistic, perhaps a little petty and materialistic and it is true that, as some GR reviewers point out, Coelho’s portrayal of women perhaps leaves a little to be desired. You can hate it for this if you want but, like most philosophical novels, I cannot believe it was intended to be read like that.
At a deeper level, the novella walks you through the ideas of fulfilling your destiny, personal responsibility, connecting with your surroundings and listening to your heart. Although at times the narrative comes across as a little preachy and even sometimes a little reproving, the thoughts it aims to portray are good ones that are worth taking on board and the book has a calm, meditative atmosphere that leaves you feeling restored and contemplative. In so many ways, it reminds me of The Celestine Prophecy – the philosophies proposed in this book are very similar to many of James Redfield’s ‘insights’, although they are revealed in a significantly better way. Whilst the two books are equally perceptive and discuss many of the same things, it is indisputable that Coelho is the better literary writer of the two.
This book has come along at just the right time for me – a time when perhaps I have let my ambitions slip away from me in lieu of the pleasance of everyday life, just like the Andalusian baker. It is definitely a book that I will read again, at those times when I need another gentle nudge. It is a book that I will recommend to others, but only carefully – some won’t contemplate the ideas it holds in the intended way and some will simply be in the wrong place and frame of mind to take it on board. This book may well be for you but you need to listen to the words that are not necessarily written on the pages. (less)
The Master and Margarita, at its base, is a love story between the two title characters – a love that goes beyond any normal means to survive. It’s a...moreThe Master and Margarita, at its base, is a love story between the two title characters – a love that goes beyond any normal means to survive. It’s about as intriguing as a love story can get without becoming too ridiculous (okay, I admit that the devil’s involvement could be classed as some-what far-fetched but somehow Bulgakov has made that seem perfectly normal and so I’ve decided to just go with it). Weaved around this, we read of Woland (Satan) and his wonderful retinue (Behemoth the fat cat with a liking for vodka and chess, Korovyov in his cracked pince-nez and Azazello with his mystical cream and amazing shot). Their escapades, more mischievous than evil, are comical and hugely entertaining, bringing in a wonderful slapstick humour that gives light relief at all the appropriate moments (as well as a few inappropriate ones too). The final thread to pull it all together is the story of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nostri (‘Jesus of Nazareth’), the novel-within-a-novel, so devotedly written by The Master and so adored by Margarita – the manuscript that so famously cannot burn.
A novel as steeped in history as The Master and Margarita deserves some attention and a certain amount of reverence – something my own attention-deficit mind seems to struggle with and thus, please excuse my stumbling attempt at doing so. Bulgakov spent the last 12 years of his life focusing on this project, starting in 1928 but burning his manuscript in 1930. Restarting in 1931, he was working on his fourth draft when he died in 1940. Perhaps it was this that led to his famous exclamation that “manuscripts don’t burn”, after Margarita mourns the loss of The Master’s controversial novel. A novel, after all, will still fight for a way out of the author’s head and onto the page, regardless of how often that page is incinerated. First published in Moscow magazine, Bulgakov’s novel was massively censored, having around 12% of the original content removed. The first complete publication within the Soviet Union was in 1973, based entirely on the fourth draft but the edition that is most popular today was published later, bringing in the earlier drafts to create a more complete and rounded novel.
The book, quite understandably, has droves of fans and maybe even a slightly cult-ish following but in true religious-allegory-style, it also has just as many ‘fanatical opponents’, who demonstrate against Bulgakov’s work at every level. So this book has quite a back-story. I had, of course, heard of the novel but when a copy happened to come into my possession through no effort of my own, I took it as a sign to begin reading immediately. Boy, that was a crazy few days (yes, I now feel tired and emotional enough to believe that I attended that Spring Ball with Margarita herself. To almost believe anyhow – I do not need a visit to Dr. Stravinsky – the novel’s resident psychiatrist, however much I’d like one).
The book can be read on so many levels and there are innumerable essays claiming that Bulgakov meant one thing or another. The themes, too, seem to be never ending – good versus evil, innocence versus guilt, courage versus cowardice. Freedom, love, sexuality, responsibility, truth and of course, religion. All these things play a role and help to create the philosophical allegory found running through the novel. Bulgakov throws in questions that can’t help but make you ponder, using Woland to make you examine your own thoughts and ideas. My favourite of all (if it’s possible to have a favourite amongst such beauties) is this:
Would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and from living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid. (p.305)
The book, similarly, has been pipped as a socio-political satire. This is hardly surprising, given the context within which it was born. Soviet Russia was in full swing and Stalinism had stifled much of the country, making it intolerable. Bulgakov obviously refers to much of this through the novel, with the oppressive regime, fear and economic struggles jumping out at the reader at regular intervals. Again though, this is nothing unusual – Bulgakov’s personal experiences are bound to come through in his work. Many have claimed that the novel, however, is just as much a satire of modern life in general as it is of Soviet Russia in particular, although Bulgakov far from derides all modern amenities. This can be seen through his mockery of society, class structure and culture.
It’s true that I cannot refute any of these critics’ claims of satire and allegory but a big part of me wonders just how much of the analysis is necessary. With too much investigation and scrutiny, a book can lose its magic and whilst doing some research on the background of The Master and Margarita, I saw how easily this book could slip into that category. Thus, whilst it may be important (and may even be true), I urge you to forget about the commentary, the satire, the themes, the biographical content and read it as I believe any novel is meant to be read – as an enjoyable, entertaining piece of literature, full to the brim with page-turning action, loveable characters (yes, even Woland and his henchmen) and hysterically funny narrative. This has been my first true foray into Russian literature and I can only promise that it certainly won’t be my last. (less)
I've sat staring at the screen for a while now, wondering how on Earth to start a review of this book. Kundera's lack of narrative structure prevents...moreI've sat staring at the screen for a while now, wondering how on Earth to start a review of this book. Kundera's lack of narrative structure prevents any kind of blurb or rough synopsis that might start off a review and the book is so crammed with ideas and opinions that it would take me just as many words to review it fully as it took Kundera to write it. Not, of course, that that's a bad thing. His narrative style is different, which is fantastic but more importantly, he does it extremely well.
This kind of novel is one that I truly love - one that pulls enjoyable fiction in with accessible philosophy. Having fond (albeit extremely vague) memories of experiencing The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I was overjoyed when Betty chose Immortality as this months book club choice. I say 'experiencing' instead of 'reading' because that is exactly how Kundera's work comes across. It takes you on a journey of thought and expression that most ordinary novels simply can't do.
A philosophical novel, Kundera weaves his thoughts into the thinly stretched story of Agnes and her life, her family. His fictional family crash up against 'real-life' (Avenarius and himself) with surprising regularity and even more surprising clarity - a feature of writing that I think I will always love. The story itself is endearing and Agnes is a likeable character but without the philosophy behind it, it would be nothing. Kundera uses her tale to express his thoughts on society, on life, on history and of course, on immortality - that thing that so many strive for. Kundera seemingly flicks from one thought to another but they all wind together seamlessly, making the read fascinating. His theories on imagology, journalism, politics and the self truly get you thinking and I'm inclined to agree with him on most of it.
And so I find myself sat here again, staring at the screen, wondering how to end the review. It really is amazing just how quickly Kundera had my brain racing as I was reading the novel and just how quickly Kundera has stopped me in my tracks when I have to explain myself.
Absolutely brilliant book if you are just starting out on a philosophical journey or if you just want to get to grips with some basic philosophical id...moreAbsolutely brilliant book if you are just starting out on a philosophical journey or if you just want to get to grips with some basic philosophical ideas. This book became my bible when I was doing A-level philosophy and even a little for my first year degree. :D(less)
I just don't know where to begin. A quick read, finished in just over an hour, the book has left me with an emotion that I can't much expla...moreHoly mama.
I just don't know where to begin. A quick read, finished in just over an hour, the book has left me with an emotion that I can't much explain.
It starts as gentle parable, set in a beautiful place. The links between music and life are heartwarming and magnificent. I want to see the world as Kino and Juana see it, at least as they see it at the beginning. By the end, Steinbeck's exquisite (as always) narrative and commanding story telling have pierced my heart in ways that I'm not even sure I understand.
I sat here for while, not knowing what to write or where to start and so I read some other reviews of this book. There were some words that came up time and again: obvious, clumsy, heavy-handed. It's true that Steinbeck slaps you in the face with his themes and morals and there is definitely a lack of subtlety but one thing is for sure, I will go back for another 'Steinbeck slap' time and again.
"It's not good to want a thing too much."
"Humans are never satisfied, you give them one thing and they want something more."
"He could feel a shell of hardness drawing over him."(less)
This book was a Christmas gift from an old friend who clearly knows me well. Despite having studied philosophy reasonably intensively in the past, th...more This book was a Christmas gift from an old friend who clearly knows me well. Despite having studied philosophy reasonably intensively in the past, this little book of thought experiments was both entertaining and engaging. One of the things that I love about philosophy is that it can be read and understood at many different levels and this book is no exception. Baggini has taken 100 famous philosophical conundrums, re-written them in his own words and then added a brief discussion of the topic at hand. These can be used at face value, as short sharp ideas that you may not have thought about before or as a starting block for more serious thought and contemplation. In this way, the book will suit all levels of philosophical ability, from beginners to the more advanced.
This book has been widely criticised for lacking in philosophical depth and in some ways, this could be seen to be true. Debates that have gone on for centuries are summed up in just a few pages. However, it very clearly is not meant to be a deep philosophical work but rather, an accessible overview of some of the most famous, most potent and longest-running problems in philosophical history. They are not meant to be deep evaluation in themselves but rather, a springboard for great discussion – they are the thought experiments, the results and consequences of which are found within the reader rather than in what is being read: which brings me back to the issue of philosophical depth. The depth depends on what is put into it from a reader’s point of view and the experiments are not intended to be read passively. Surely the depth is derived from the reader (or thinker if you will) rather than from the issues in themselves – you get out of it what you put in to it. I believe that Baggini intended to hold up a mirror, that he is the messenger and is showing these problems for the reader to work on themselves.
One thing that Baggini does do particularly well is to make old and often stuffy philosophical ideas more relevant to modern society and more easily accessible than other long, stodgy works of philosophy. He does this by re-working the concepts into relevant tales, referencing characters from television, books and films as well as modern technology such as televisions, automatic weaponry and virtual reality computers. A good example of this re-hashing is when he turns the old adage “if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” into a tale of aliens, movies and unusual sensory experiences.
Overall, this book is an excellent starting point for a budding philosopher that leaves out all the usual stodge and gives a wide-ranging view of many different schools of thought and ideas. The book is also a lovely little trip down memory lane if you are a more advanced philosopher, taking a fresh look at all those old conundrums that got you interested in philosophy in the first place. On top of this, it is just plain entertaining.
Attfield was my lecturer for a few modules. A very lovely man, a good lecturer with some good ideas. I would say though that his writing style is quit...moreAttfield was my lecturer for a few modules. A very lovely man, a good lecturer with some good ideas. I would say though that his writing style is quite hard to get through. If you persevere, it's worth it. (less)
This book gives an overview of feminist issues. It does not go particularly in depth in any issue but is good if you are just starting out. It offers...moreThis book gives an overview of feminist issues. It does not go particularly in depth in any issue but is good if you are just starting out. It offers a balanced argument in each section. I found this very useful for my Gender and Philosophy module. (less)
I feel completely under-qualified to review this book.
Written as a sort of imitation gospel, complete with parable-style tales, allusions to Christ...more I feel completely under-qualified to review this book.
Written as a sort of imitation gospel, complete with parable-style tales, allusions to Christianity and chapters ending with ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ (in lieu of ‘this is the word of God’), Nietzsche actually condemns religion and speaks harshly of Christianity and its followers. He writes about a great many ideas - religion, the soul, politics, the development of man, relationships, pity, charity, ad infinitum (or so it feels). These are in quick succession and seemingly without any editing or re-working to make them more readable. Indeed, it seems almost as though Nietzsche had a series of inspirational bursts of ideas that he put down on paper and then roughly collated. This makes for a rather difficult read. It also makes for a powerful, passionate, poetic and thought-provoking one too.
To be honest, I think that is pretty much the entirety of my review. I really don’t know what else to write, despite having sat here, pondering and waiting for inspiration to come for a good 20 minutes. I’m also finding it difficult for ‘little ol’ me’ to give such a mammoth work a star rating. Instead, I’ll blandly regurgitate the notes I made whilst slogging my way through the text (note-taking is not something I always do: only when things really grasp my attention and that, in itself, shows the power of Nietzsche’s narrative). The following contains quotes/ideas from the book and so I’ve put a spoiler warning on it, even though it’s not really the kind of book that suffers from spoilers as such.
-“It is invisible hands that torment and bend us the worst” – p.69
-Suffering makes us stronger/more unique.
-The higher you go in society, the more prone to evil you become but that’s not necessarily bad. Greatness is only possible through great evil.
-“The state is the coldest of all cold monsters” p.75 and man has grown to adore it. In order to be free, we must get away from the state but freedom is not suited to all men. Men are not equal.
-“Truly, men have given themselves good and evil […] it did not descend to them as a voice from heaven” p.85
-“You yourself will always be the worst enemy you can encounter” – p.90
-These two made me giggle: “Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has one solution: it is called pregnancy” and “The man’s happiness is: I will. The woman’s happiness is: He will” p.91
-“There is bitterness in the cup of even the best love” p.96
-“Mistrust all in whom the urge to punish is strong”p.124
-“The Earth has a skin, and this skin has diseases. One of the diseases, for example, is called ‘Man’” p.153
-“The greatest events – they are not out noisiest but our stillest hours” p.153
-The church is like a volcano – it is hypocritical, speaks with “smoke and bellowing” and makes believe that “it speaks out of the belly of things”.
-Zarathustra’s dream of laughter and coffins reminded me of Poe.
-“There is little manliness here: therefore women make themselves manly. For only he who is sufficiently a man will redeem the woman in woman” p.189
-Solitude and loneliness are not the same. (So true…)
-We speak too much and understand too little.
-“He who wants to become higher must love himself” p.211
-“Man is a bridge and not a goal” p.215
-“All that has a price is of little value” p.220
-Three traditional evils: sex, lust for power and selfishness are not actually bad. Sex is only bad if you hate your body. Lust for power drives change and improvement. Only the cowardly hate selfishness.
A lot of his ideas are commonsensical. I like a lot of them - particularly his perspective on Euthanasia. And a lot of his animal rights sections. It...moreA lot of his ideas are commonsensical. I like a lot of them - particularly his perspective on Euthanasia. And a lot of his animal rights sections. It is accessible and readable too, broken down into sections so you can pick and choose the topics you wish to read about. Worth a read if you are interested in moral philosophy. (less)
An excellent read for three purposes: 1. If you want to get a good introduction to Buddhist principles and texts. 2. If you want a wholesome, satisfying...moreAn excellent read for three purposes: 1. If you want to get a good introduction to Buddhist principles and texts. 2. If you want a wholesome, satisfying spiritual read. Even if you don't agree with Buddhism as a religion, many of the truths within the book are definitely worth considering as ways to live your life. 3. Some of the poetry is simply beautiful. (less)
I admit I haven't read it all. It is a stodgy read. It gets three stars for the awesomeness - epicness. A theogological masterpiece. Some interesting...moreI admit I haven't read it all. It is a stodgy read. It gets three stars for the awesomeness - epicness. A theogological masterpiece. Some interesting ideas. (less)