I bought this book without any idea of what it was about. I liked the title.
I thought I had "race" figured out, especially after some very meaningfulI bought this book without any idea of what it was about. I liked the title.
I thought I had "race" figured out, especially after some very meaningful discussions over the past couple of years. I had certainly crystallized my own position (though I couldn't articulate it terribly well until earlier this year when I had to and was not entirely successful, which motivated me to truly get it right). But, troubling as it is to be placed in a group of people about whom fundamental things are assumed because of the way they look -- and aha! isn't that the point?! -- I made a great effort to open myself honestly to Biko's points, and even to his accusations, and I found my approach morphing.
I have a few issues with some of Biko's statements, viewpoints, and omissions, which will be enumerated here, but I don't mind at all. One of the things I've taken in so far is that contradictions don't always have to be resolved. Whether Biko is right that being at peace with inherent contradictions is an "African" trait in contrast with the "Western" need to approach everything scientifically to find an answer or create a synthesis of conflicting elements is another story, and it's something I would like to consider further regardless of the nationality/skin color/"sort" of people to whom these traits are (glibly?) attributed.
As someone with white skin, I have the very comfortable option, as a member of society's privileged and as a member of the majority (at least visually) in most of the places I've lived, to be able to say that I don't "identify" as a white person. That that's not one of my defining characteristics. That it doesn't say anything about who I am. That it's not important. With time and difficult discussions (with self and others), though, I've come to realize that the way we look most definitely shapes who we are. It's unavoidable, because we're shaped by the way people treat us and respond to us, and a lot of that has to do with first impressions, which are in turn largely formed by visual appearances (or, in the case of people who cannot see, other instantaneous cues as to "race" and class). When you're part of a visually obvious minority, you don't have the luxury of ignoring or forgetting what you look like, because society doesn't let you forget it for a minute. While I've experienced this to a very small degree, I acknowledge that the fact that my skin is lighter rather than darker than most Mexicans' means that my experience as an obvious minority was nothing like that of people who are constantly being taken for shoplifters, muggers, and intruders. I can't imagine living with that year in and year out, and I know I'm fortunate not to have to waste energy and imagination and anger on handling anything like it, because I'd go mad with rage. I wouldn't want to join hands with anybody who looked like the oppressors either, and I might well become militant about it. In fact, my positive experiences and my luck at being treated well in every country I've lived in have very much contributed to my peaceful disposition and my unshakeable conviction that people are people and that people should work together for good. I've had the good fortune, in other words, to end up that way because of the way I look. Because I'm white. It makes me feel dirty sometimes to be white (and here I knowingly say "be white" rather than "have white skin") and to resemble in whatever happenstance way the people who have historically killed, systematically destroyed, and evilly disrespected others who happen to have more melanin active in their skin.
In any case, back to the book. It's very difficult reading, and it brings up fundamental issues. Must we live with existential guilt if we've not risked our lives to save the lives of others? Or can we convince ourselves that it's acceptable to be courageous in other ways, that we're better off alive? Steve Biko wrote what he liked, in his words, but he also got himself murdered doing it. How much more could he have done for South Africans and others if he'd lived another 40 or 50 or 60 years? On the other hand, somebody had to do the awful work Steve Biko did, and I thank him for leaving our world a little less brutal than it would have been without his bravery. It's incredibly unpleasant to admit, as I've done after 100 pages or so of this book, that he must have been right -- that the blacks in apartheid South Africa had to go it alone, that they were not in a position to accept any aid of any sort from even well-meaning whites. I can just see myself being turned away, lowering my head and crying with frustration while walking away rejected by SASO. And I prickle constantly as I read. I tend to prickle when I'm told that, essentially, I can't understand and can't stand in solidarity because I don't look right. How did things get so bad? I don't know enough about the country's history to know how the country's horrid state of affairs went so far as to necessitate such radical action as Biko called for in his many speeches and articles, but I'm left with little doubt that by the time Biko reached the age of political consciousness, there was no other choice. This stings terribly but surely can't compare with the beehive in which countless blacks lived (miserably) and died (brutally) throughout the period of apartheid.
I can only be glad (and that's not the right word, because racially based police brutality is unconscionable and horrific) that, though things for black people now (in 2014) in the U.S. (according to some statistics) are even worse than in apartheid S.A., I'm welcome to take part in rallies and vigils and protests. The U.S. is in a much better place than S.A. was at the time in that there's a sense in the U.S. that everybody (with a halfway decent attitude) is in it together and that a tragedy for any individual or city or sector of society is a national tragedy, a human tragedy, something that affects us all. I wish Steve Biko had lived to see people of all appearances standing together for justice; it's clear from the writings he left behind that he never experienced such a thing.
Lastly, on reading the transcript of Biko's answers to the judge and the defense attorney while on trial: Biko was incredibly articulate, never condescending, and entirely reasonable, though he must have been simmering with rage particularly at that time. To have had such a thinker among us should be a point of pride for the human race.
"The rule of the oppressor is prescribed by the endurance of the oppressed." ...more
A deceptively casual, simple glimpse into the life of an honest, unassuming thinker.
I have exactly zero interest in running, but as a musician I findA deceptively casual, simple glimpse into the life of an honest, unassuming thinker.
I have exactly zero interest in running, but as a musician I find Murakami's insights both useful and spiritually enriching, especially with regard to his thoughts on discipline and focus. This book also inspired me to take a (for me) very long bike ride and to maintain a new inner awareness throughout.
I recommend this book very highly to anyone looking at this review. I will be buying additional copies for several family members....more
This is a relatively engaging little volume summarizing many philosophies related to kindness, but it reads like a literature review and adds little iThis is a relatively engaging little volume summarizing many philosophies related to kindness, but it reads like a literature review and adds little in the way of new insight. Somehow, one expects a bit more ...warmth... in such a sweet-looking little volume. ...more
I have developed an uncharacteristically problematic relationship with this book. I find it rife with unsubstantiated and undeveloped arguments, disorI have developed an uncharacteristically problematic relationship with this book. I find it rife with unsubstantiated and undeveloped arguments, disorganized in its propensity to alternate original and thought-provoking statements with drawn-out discussions of the self-evident, and at times just silly. Most of the times I set the book down, I did so not because my reading time was up but because I was shaking my head in frustration. However, I knew that I had a lot to learn from the book, so I persevered.
Some of Todorov's discussions, particularly about Islam and about European identity, are very weak and reveal biases of which he is clearly not aware. He very unfortunately falls into the us/them trap in discussing Islamist reactions to the Danish cartoon incidents and the Pope's 2006 Regensburg speech. This, of course, seriously reduces the author's credibility. However, he also offers some (to me) new ideas among the many annoyingly and even offensively oversimplified passages, for example an even-handed and appropriately ambivalent interpretation of the development of Hirsi Ali's politics; I also find his idealism marginally appealing if naive.
Potential readers interested in statehood, national identity, etc. would do better to read Hannah Arendt, any mention of whom is mystifyingly absent in this book.
A superb and far-reaching account of -- and, more importantly, reflection upon -- urban rebuilding in post-WWII Germany and Poland, with special attenA superb and far-reaching account of -- and, more importantly, reflection upon -- urban rebuilding in post-WWII Germany and Poland, with special attention to the philosophies, political intrigues, and prejudices that led to the divergent ways in which Polish, East German, and West German governments (national and local) and citizens approached urban renewal from 1945 to the present.
Meng is a very fine writer with a broad and humanistic view of his subject and of its larger implications. Though his is not a field that normally commands my attention, I would read further works of his with pleasure. This book is an impressive achievement whose philosophical, even-handed, thoughtful approach should be much more widely adopted in the academic literature -- and in society. ...more
I had a fine hour or two skimming this book, but it seemed such a good fit for a friend that I'm putting it directly in the mail. I am not quite compeI had a fine hour or two skimming this book, but it seemed such a good fit for a friend that I'm putting it directly in the mail. I am not quite compelled to make the time commitment to finish it, but I do find it a worthwhile prospect....more
The title implies that the author will offer some answer to the question posed therein -- but he doesn't appear to do anything of the sort. The literaThe title implies that the author will offer some answer to the question posed therein -- but he doesn't appear to do anything of the sort. The literary excerpts, reproductions of paintings, etc. are worthy and of interest to anyone with any sense of esthetics, letters, or history, but the message of the collection seems to be simply that we should put things in perspective because we'll all die anyway. This is a fine enough theme for a collection, I suppose, but it doesn't stand up to what the author purports to share with us -- namely, a reason that choosing one thing over another has no impact on our lives.
The fact is that our decisions do have an impact on our lives, no matter how unimportant our lives may be in context. Our impending deaths -- and the grand, rushing current of human history in which any one life is a single droplet -- is to my mind another matter entirely and does not bear on the issue which is supposedly at hand....more
A strange ride (literally) through human evolution.
Some ideas worthy of further consideration:
"Nature causes nurture."
Loss of female facial hair facilA strange ride (literally) through human evolution.
Some ideas worthy of further consideration:
"Nature causes nurture."
Loss of female facial hair facilitated prolonged emotional contact with babies.
The Minoans of Crete were the lost civilization of Atlantis.
I must say that I didn't find the theme-park ride to be the most effective vehicle (as it were) for this book. The visual/film analogies became a bit obtuse at times, and I felt that they distracted me from the material. I also found the narrator, Sarah, rather obnoxious.
However, perhaps I'm simply too accustomed to traditional modes of writing about such subject matter. I do understand the choice of this narrative mode, and it has its strengths. ...more
Armstrong has been a truly inspiring companion these past few weeks. Meditative, probing and wonderfully articulate, this book has no fear of distilliArmstrong has been a truly inspiring companion these past few weeks. Meditative, probing and wonderfully articulate, this book has no fear of distilling ideas and actions to their fundamental essences. I happen to agree with most everything Armstrong posits, which makes for very pleasant and reaffirming reading indeed; but, more importantly, I am refreshed and energized by his excellent thinking, expressed as it is in beautiful and erudite -- yet casual and inviting -- prose. This book makes me feel OK about being human, being educated, being an artist, and remaining somewhat attached to the "first world" into which I was born. It's no mean feat to accomplish all that in under 200 pages.
Armstrong knows what's important in the life of the mind and the spirit, and he's not afraid to remind us. I, for one, am very grateful for what he shares in these golden pages. Gentle, humane, insightful, incisive, etc. etc. etc. I look forward to rereading this numerous times. ...more
Larson approaches his subject with both encyclopedic knowledge and flair. For my taste, however, the flair (in this case, largely provided by unnecessLarson approaches his subject with both encyclopedic knowledge and flair. For my taste, however, the flair (in this case, largely provided by unnecessary accounts of Dodd's frivolous, politically idiotic, and incredibly indiscreet daughter) was somewhat overdone and detracted from the seriousness of a primarily historical piece. I recognize, though, that people who routinely choose their reading from best-seller lists are likely to respond positively to the degree of personal detail included in the narrative.
On another note, I couldn't help but notice several instances in which the past perfect should have been used (but wasn't), and this was disturbing to me.
In response to another reviewer, I must say in Mr. Larson's defense that about 50 single-spaced pages of citations are indeed included in the back of the book, which I find far more appropriate than footnotes would have been in a work of this sort....more
Worthwhile. Reasonable, respectful, expressive. I appreciate the fact that the great majority of the book is written from a perspective of wonderment,Worthwhile. Reasonable, respectful, expressive. I appreciate the fact that the great majority of the book is written from a perspective of wonderment, despite the events described in the beginning and end. I'm happy to have learned some Persian history/politics/religion in such a personal and even expansive way....more