incredibly high quality is sustained throughout. many, many extended five-star chunks with just enough sprinkled clunky moments to deny it the covetedincredibly high quality is sustained throughout. many, many extended five-star chunks with just enough sprinkled clunky moments to deny it the coveted Overall Five-star Rating.
so good, really, that i can't even choose either a best or a worst essay from the bunch. the best stuff is his humorous description that is also very detailed and therefore highly informative, about things he doesn't already know everything about, which thus works best in the essays describing the illinois state fair, the set of a David Lynch film, and a luxury caribbean cruise. it works less well when he explains things he is a super-expert on already, such as tennis and lit-crit.
as usual i love DFW's style of a conversational tone (using, e.g. "go" instead of "say" at certain appropriate times, or starting paragraphs with "But then so...") but also using 25-cent words when that's just the right word at that moment, e.g. "formicatory" instead of "ant-like".
but one thing that bugged me a bit was that DFW does have a set of pet 25-cent words which really need to be used an absolute maximum of ONE TIME PER BOOK but he violates this with several words e.g. baroque, otiose, cincture, and sedulous, sometimes with multiple uses even in the same essay.
but yeah, overall quite a wonderful reading experience....more
ugh. written for 9th-graders, i guess. so boring. i suppose this is meant to be a "message" book that warns us of how governments and professional staugh. written for 9th-graders, i guess. so boring. i suppose this is meant to be a "message" book that warns us of how governments and professional standing armies will invariably bungle the response to every stage of every major threat that comes down the pike. but wrapped in a wicked cool zombie war story.
possibly i should put this in my "didn't finish" shelf since i only read the first 100 pages carefully and then skimmed the rest stopping to read a page here and there to make sure i didn't miss anything. i didn't miss anything. so repetitive. it could have been a decent 30-page story. but 340 pages? oh no.
in many ways, this book reminds me of Black Elk Speaks. as literature, it didn't blow me away, but as a TRUE story, it becomes profound and important.in many ways, this book reminds me of Black Elk Speaks. as literature, it didn't blow me away, but as a TRUE story, it becomes profound and important. the author was born in central vietnam in 1949 and the book tells her story up to 1970 when she came to the United States, intercut with an account of a return visit she makes in 1986 to seek out her surviving family members.
in the same sense that i think all americans should read Black Elk Speaks, everyone should read this, too. no matter what you think about the war in vietnam, i think this will challenge what you think you know. no one, no one, NO ONE was the "good guy" in this war. no one. murdering bastards ALL. life destroyers ALL. calculating hypocrites ALL.
not for those with a weak stomach. rape and torture described in detail. the author is one tough dame. ...more
the title is not very accurate. it's not a debate, and it only occasionally delves into what i think of as "human nature". and yet, there are lots ofthe title is not very accurate. it's not a debate, and it only occasionally delves into what i think of as "human nature". and yet, there are lots of great ideas in this book.
the first third is the "debate", which is really sort of a simultaneous interview in which this philosopher Fons Elders asks one of them a question and then asks the other one what he thinks of what the first one said. chomsky and foucault hardly interact, and they don't disagree much either, although they often say, "well, i would rather emphasize X instead of Y." it is on the internet here
the second third consists of two long interviews with chomsky alone, and the final third consists of a foucault interview and couple talks he gave.
interesting chomsky ideas: ---"I've never seen a child who didn't want to build something out of blocks, or learn something new, or try the next task. And the only reason why adults aren't like that is, I suppose, that they have been sent to school and other oppressive institutions, which have driven that out of them." ---"in mathematical linguistics I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I've often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn't care less....They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible -- the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. ...in discussion concerning social issues, the issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom." ---"to a very large extent existing law represents certain human values, which are decent human values; and existing law, correctly interpreted, permits much of what the state commands you not to do. And I think it's important to exploit the areas of law which are properly formulated and then perhaps to act directly against those areas of law which simply ratify some system of power. ...very often when I do something which the state regards as illegal, I regard it as legal : that is, I regard the state as criminal. ...there are interesting elements of international law, for example, embedded in the Nuremberg principles and the United Nations Charter, which permit, in fact, I believe, require the citizen to act against his own state in ways which the state will falsely regard as criminal."
interesting foucault ideas: ---"our society has been afflicted by a disease, a very curious, a very paradoxical disease, for which we haven’t yet found a name; and this mental disease has a very curious symptom, which is that the symptom itself brought the mental disease into being." ---"the history that bears and determines us has the form of a war, rather than that of a language - relations of power, not relations of meaning." ---"can reason be too powerful in politics? if laws were passed to compel people to live rationally, wouldn't that pose a threat to individual freedom?" ---foucault has an interesting analysis of leadership. he distinguishes between two metaphors: one is the helmsman of a ship, where society is like a platform for people live on as they choose, and the leaders guide the whole platform (the ship), among the dangers of the external world (war, natural disasters, etc.); the other is the shepherd of the flock, where the leaders guide and drive the people themselves - the state actively tries to control each and every individual, and takes on the task of making sure each and every member of the flock stays in the right place, consumes the right food at the right time, etc., all of course "for their own good, and for the good of everyone." the helmsman model he ascribes to (e.g.) the pre-christian greeks and romans, while the shepherd model he ascribes to (e.g.) the egyptians and hebrews. both models vie for supremacy during the history of western civilisation, with of course the shepherd model having scary, totalitarian implications. ...more
certainly in the running for the most disappointing book ever. first, it's on all these lists of the greatest books ever, plus it's got a really highcertainly in the running for the most disappointing book ever. first, it's on all these lists of the greatest books ever, plus it's got a really high rating on goodreads. plus i open it and the first few pages are breathtaking. hannah is one killer sentencecrafter. a vixen of prose. some sentences 50+ words long but you only need to read them once because they are both precise and action-packed. and oh, the promise her intros seem to hold. bold, sweeping strokes that wipe out long-held beliefs and foretell of new paradigms to come. the great human cataclysms of our times will be analysed and the true causes, forces at work through the centuries, laid bare.
but the promise is completely unrealised. i read 200 pages closely, then skimmed through 100 more. it turns into an excrutiating brick of mass psychobabble. "jews felt this way, so they acted this way, so others felt this way about them, so this made jews feel this way, so they did this." "imperialists had these intentions, so they tried to do this, but it made people feel this way, so the imperialists changed to this methodology in order to make people feel this way." every group is a monolith which thinks and acts like an archetypal individual. which, ok, is sometimes a necessary simplification in history, but the real killer is her EVIDENCE. time and time and time again, her "evidence" is a quote from another historian, or even a quote from a contemporary NOVEL. IF YOU WANT TO PROVE A THESIS ABOUT HISTORY, YOU HAVE TO PROVE IT WITH HISTORY, NOT BY QUOTING THE CONCLUSIONS OF OTHERS. i came away pretty sure that she didn't have much of a head for figures or economics. almost no numbers at all are quoted as evidence.
even if i were convinced of her ideas, if i espoused them to someone who then challenged me to defend them, this book provides almost nothing i could use. but then of course what makes the whole thing even worse is that i don't think she's correct at all.
there is one tiny speck of possibility. hannah had obviously read thousands of books and essays and letters on the subject. i suppose it is possible that she assumed her audience would also be like her, so that she only needed to point at her sources, rather than reprise the events and people that are the subjects of history. there are multiple footnotes on most pages and about 1000 items in the bibliography.
if you want to learn how the world came to look like it does, don't read this. read Tragedy and Hope, by carroll quigley...more
well, i didn't learn much from this collection of essays. i guess i'm giving it 3 stars for trying.
some of the essays were like, "OK, here's my life'well, i didn't learn much from this collection of essays. i guess i'm giving it 3 stars for trying.
some of the essays were like, "OK, here's my life's work boiled down to 20 pages." but instead of trying to express their main caoncepts in words, they sort of just listed their results, and said "go find the proofs in my papers." ugh.
other guys talked about one little technical problem, and then only very briefly connected it to the big questions of QM.
but here and there, i found a few really cool ideas, and it was nice to read some first-person essays from a bunch of guys so i could decide whether i liked their style. i liked the style of G. t'Hooft, Y. Aharonov, J. Butterfield, H.P. Durr, A. Elitzur, C. Rovelli, L. Smolin, S. Dolev, and D. Aerts. I'll look for other things they have written.
I Hated the style of J. Hartle, C. Brukner, S. Saunders, A. Zeilinger, A.J. Leggett, and G. Chew. ...more
for me, this was so horrible that after 100 pages i simply could not bring myself to go on. i guess this book was written for congressional staffers tfor me, this was so horrible that after 100 pages i simply could not bring myself to go on. i guess this book was written for congressional staffers to read, and all the flowery language was supposed to "inspire" them to tell their boss to give scientists lots and lots of money.
basically, i think Wilson knows he is never going to do any good science again, so the next best thing is to write a book about how scientists (i.e. himself) are the angels of humanity.
everything is simply asserted, then the reason it's important is because he quotes some old dead guy, then the reason it's true is because he says so, and the reason it's wonderful is because he uses a few four-syllable adjectives to describe it.
and maybe the most infuriating thing is that somewhere under all the pompous claptrap, his main point is actually pretty interesting: that science and the humanities, which parted ways centuries ago, did so to their mutual detriment; that there should be a unity to all knowledge; that all types of deep intelligence come from the same mental stuff but the connections have been lost in our time, and that this causes problems in society, academia, business, government, etc.
but i hated this book. it doesn't prove a thing. ...more
this book consists of a single paragraph. it's only 100 pages long, but that's still a pretty long paragraph.
it's kind of a prose poem, so it's sort othis book consists of a single paragraph. it's only 100 pages long, but that's still a pretty long paragraph.
it's kind of a prose poem, so it's sort of interesting that i actually enjoyed it in translation, since i often don't like translations at all. He uses a lot of repetition, and some people might find the style annoying, but i liked it.
basically, it's about his friendship with Paul Wittgenstein, who was the nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He talks a lot about paul's madness and his own lung disease and how they were related to how horrible life is and how awful almost all the people in the world are and especially austrians. a good quote:
"For let us not deceive ourselves: most of the minds we associate with are housed in heads that have little more to offer than overgrown potatoes, stuck on top of whining and tastelessly clad bodies and eking out a pathetic existence that does not even merit our pity."
highlights: 3 - not collecting treasures prevents stealing. 13- accept disgrace willingly 23- he who does not trust will not be trusted 46- he who knows thighlights: 3 - not collecting treasures prevents stealing. 13- accept disgrace willingly 23- he who does not trust will not be trusted 46- he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough 57- the more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers there will be
lowlights: eh, pretty much the whole translation. i guess this version is popular because it has nice calligraphy of the original chinese and BW photos of nature accompanying the english translation. but despite not having read any of the other translations, i'm pretty sure this one is pretty bad. there is an essay by the editor at the end, where she tells the story of how the book came to be, 25 years ago, and she admits that she knows no chinese, and what she did was read the author's proposed translation, then read 12 other published translations of the same line, then try to write something that had the author's idea but sounded different from the other 12 versions. that came as no surprise to me. many, many lines read exactly like someone had gone through a thesaurus and chosen not the best word, or the second best, but yeah, about the 13th best word for the situation. clunkity clunk. that's how i wrote social studies essays in fifth grade. go through the encyclopedia and try to write the same thing but change a bunch of words. one day i will definitely read another version....more
if i didn't give this book 5 stars, i might have to give it 2. it is truly avant-garde, and i think many, many people who pick this book up will get aif i didn't give this book 5 stars, i might have to give it 2. it is truly avant-garde, and i think many, many people who pick this book up will get about a third of the way through it and then just throw it against the wall.
the first and last chapters are actually fairly coherent and remarkable. they are riveting, chilling, hilarious, and bizarre. but the body of the book consists of an (almost?) incomprehensible series of, what, nightmare collage flashbacks? alternating with "historical" biographical sketches from an alternate history of america? though grammatical, the words sometimes seem to be chosen almost at random.
in the end, though, i was convinced that the author really had something to say, something profoundly unsayable in a straightforward way. or it could just be a big joke, like "how many people can i get to read 100 pages of meaningless word salad?" but i've read some other essays by ben marcus and i think this novel is no joke.
but don't come crying when you give this book one star. due warning is hereby given....more
this is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about vietnam. the author was in the military, became fluent in vietnamese, then went and read allthis is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about vietnam. the author was in the military, became fluent in vietnamese, then went and read all the vietnamese literature he could find. it is a very interesting angle, basically giving a historical, cultural, and political analysis through the lens of novels, poetry, and intellectual writing.
the only disappointment is that it basically stops at the early 80s. it was published in 1993 but is essentially the author's 1981 PhD dissertation from 12 years earlier. so much has happened since then....more
if only all physics textbooks followed this scheme: about 40% history/ narrative/ philosophy/ background/ discussion/ motivation/ humor and about 60%if only all physics textbooks followed this scheme: about 40% history/ narrative/ philosophy/ background/ discussion/ motivation/ humor and about 60% hardcore equation-intensive derivation. rather like the feynman lectures.
a good portion of the math was beyond me, and he does a LOT of hand-waving in his proofs, but he basically says each time "look, if you want to see the nitty-gritty, all the detailed proofs are in my previous book, so i'll just outline the steps here." so next up is his first book, The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.
decoherence is shown to occur on a very short timescale, like 10^-29 s for macroscopic objects. thus the schrodinger's cat paradox is completely solved. by far the most exciting thing about decoherence is that wavefunction reduction is no longer necessary.
he does mention gravitation and general relativity a tiny bit this time round, but basically neglects any real discussion of time, which would be my only gripe. ultimately, i guess he feels the effects are negligible at this point in history, so there's no point worrying about them. if one day in the future physicists can do an experiment on quantum gravity scales, then perhaps all our current methods for QM will be shown to be an approximation to something wildly different. he has no problem with that possibility. but his goal is understanding QM as it stands now, since it works flawlessly for any experiment we can now do.
well, i was hoping for much more philosophy. turned out to be mostly about product design.
also, the register was often annoyingly sort of oprahish. exwell, i was hoping for much more philosophy. turned out to be mostly about product design.
also, the register was often annoyingly sort of oprahish. explaining to the reader why certain objects make them feel certain emotions, with the implication that if you follow these instructions and buy objects satifying the following guidelines, you'll soon be feeling better emotions.
that said, i actually really liked most of the 10 laws, and just wish that in the exposition he'd had more examples about buddhist monks and education, and less about ipods and google. also, i liked that he consciously applied his laws to his own efforts, limiting the book to 100 pages, etc. i'll always give you a star for taking things to the next meta-level....more
mixed bag. thought i would hate dostoyevsky and kafka but was very pleasantly surprised by Notes From Underground and by the kafka parables. thought imixed bag. thought i would hate dostoyevsky and kafka but was very pleasantly surprised by Notes From Underground and by the kafka parables. thought i would like sartre but hated it. liked the nietzsche. hated the jaspers. mostly hated the heidegger, although i liked the initial image of the tree of philosophy - the roots of the tree lose themselves in the ground so that the rest of the tree can leave the ground. jaspers is almost pure, insufferable word salad. i'm sure he was a smart fellow who had some interesting insights into human psychology, but his writing is repetitive without examples or explanation. rilke was forgettable. kierkegaard was a disappointment. the kaufmann introduction is quite good....more