A pamphlet about Poland for a curious tourist from 1930s, very flattering. The author was either extremely courteous or handsomely paid for this kindA pamphlet about Poland for a curious tourist from 1930s, very flattering. The author was either extremely courteous or handsomely paid for this kind of promotion. In his words, Poles are a tolerant and wholesomely religious people, of inquisitive minds and impeccable manners. Still, it brings comfort to the worried heart of a modern Pole to think that there are, after all, a few grains of truth in this idealised picture....more
Anne Frank’s Diary is not as famous in Poland as it is in Western Europe. This is the case not because Poles are so awfully anti-Semitic (although somAnne Frank’s Diary is not as famous in Poland as it is in Western Europe. This is the case not because Poles are so awfully anti-Semitic (although some of us unfortunately are). It is the case because little Anne’s writing in no way reflects the trauma that affected the citizens of the Polish state. We have our own classics of the period, much darker, more sombre, and far more horrible. If you feel brave enough to dive into the most dreadful scenes of the 2nd World War, take a look at Nałkowska’s Medallions.
Nałkowska was a member of a commission for the evaluation of the Nazi crimes in Poland. Her short stories refer what she heard from various witnesses. These are not stories about eating rotten potatoes, sweetened with the dreams of a schoolgirl. These are the stories of the humanity at its lowest.
Having read them at the age of 18, for many years I was reluctant to read any more of the 2nd World War testimonies. Only recently, seeing the scary head of the nationalistic Hydra regrowing, I’ve started to seek out books that could help me understand what the hell is going on. Anne’s Diary is not such a book. It does not help to understand the social processes that lead to disasters. Anne is a very smart girl, but still only a teenager, often very naïve and erratic in her musings. Had Anne lived and achieved her goals, the diary would have been just a curiosity for her most faithful readers (for I have no doubt that she would have made an excellent writer). But she did not live through the war. She was sent to a concentration camp in 1944, in the last transportation from the Netherlands, and she died in Bergen-Belsen, just a few weeks before it was liberated by British soldiers.
It is heart-breaking to read about all her fervent hopes, and to see all the great promise in her, and to know that it was all gone far too quickly. But the diary does not show what it really meant to be a Jew in the 2nd World War. ...more
The title has little to do with the contents. There is practically no mention of Irish myth, lore, or legends, at least in the first three chapters thThe title has little to do with the contents. There is practically no mention of Irish myth, lore, or legends, at least in the first three chapters that I skimmed through. The films are discussed in the light of the universal lore, not Irish specifically. My rating does not reflect the quality of the book, but my disappointment at such dishonesty....more
After Kołakowski’s Religion, Cox’s Quantum Universe, and Hannam’s God’s Philosophers, Hawking’s Brief History is yet another book on my journey alongAfter Kołakowski’s Religion, Cox’s Quantum Universe, and Hannam’s God’s Philosophers, Hawking’s Brief History is yet another book on my journey along the fringes of human knowledge. It has been a wonderfully enriching experience to look at the same or similar issues from these very different perspectives. Kołakowski shows the battle of reason against faith in philosophical terms; Hannam shows the same in a historical perspective. Cox sticks to his maths and vehemently denies that it could have anything to do with anything vaguely religious, but he uses the mystics’ vocabulary to describe certain implications. And Hawking is brave enough to say: we want to know the mind of God.
Some reviewers accuse Hawking of hubris, and perhaps rightly so – they do so not for Hawking’s far-stretched ambitions, but for his authoritative tone in presenting certain conclusions. However, he does stress that science cannot prove anything in final terms: it only improves our understanding and provides more accurate measurements; it is a continuous process of verification without, as of yet, any absolutely final results.
Hawking wants to see the final results. Maybe it seems a bit crazy to think that it’s possible, but it does appeal to me very much. After many years of seeking answers in religion, philosophy, and science, I have come to be a great admirer of the strong anthropic principle (of a sort): we are here because we must, because it is our role to look upon the world and our own selves, and to observe, and analyse. We are the eyes of the universe. Our power of perception is our purpose and our ultimate goal. This is why I have warmed up to Hawking despite his authoritative tone and his occasionally obscure writing – because he says this:
Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.
I had actually written down very similar words long before I read this book. It really feels good to see them written by wise folks as well ;-) ...more
It is a collection of Shaw’s letters and articles concerning the matter of Irish Home Rule and later independence. Shaw left Dublin for London when heIt is a collection of Shaw’s letters and articles concerning the matter of Irish Home Rule and later independence. Shaw left Dublin for London when he was about 20, but Irish matters never ceased troubling him. In this and many other things I found in him a kindred spirit: a man who found home in another country, who learnt to understand his roots from afar, who had naïve dreams (believing that independent Ireland would ‘make short work of sacerdotal tyranny’), who was open-minded (didn’t mind Oscar Wilde’s ‘perversities’ in the least) and measured in his words – that is, unless it came to the subject of the people of Ulster.
I’m usually far more measured than Shaw in my comments about my adopted and – make no mistake! – beloved home. He had hardly anything for Ulster but heavy irony:
‘It is possible that the Ulsterman should be exterminated as an intolerable, unamiable, unneighborly, unsocial, unclubbable person; but as that is a job which no English Government is prepared to undertake, the alternative seems to be to comply with his demands short of exterminating all the Catholics, which, though it is what he would like, is also impracticable.’
‘(…) it would, I think, be more sensible to make Ulster an autonomous political lunatic asylum, with Sir Edward Carson as head keeper, and an expensive fleet and a heavily fortified frontier to hold against the Pope.’
Still, it did make me laugh. Believe it or not, in Northern Ireland there are still some people whose minds live in the world of a hundred years ago!...more
Being a medievalist, I skipped large parts of the book that did not contribute in any way to my knowledge, but I have still learnt new things. There wBeing a medievalist, I skipped large parts of the book that did not contribute in any way to my knowledge, but I have still learnt new things. There was certainly nothing about the mean speed theorem in my medieval philosophy class.
For someone who is not a historian, this is an excellent book, even though not perfectly free from misguided assumptions (like the complete uselessness of medieval medicine), or out-dated information (the use of stirrups had spread across Europe much earlier than the Author claimed) – but these are minor drawbacks. The book is very readable. To a non-professional reader, it offers a fresh look at the Middle Ages as a period of social development and progress in human knowledge. In this respect, it is also a very useful book, disproving much of the widespread prejudice about those times.
The Author may seem overly keen to defend the Catholic Church against the accusations for the curbing of the free thought, but he is also right in pointing out that, first, there were/are taboos in every period of history and every cultural milieu, and second, it was the Catholic Church that created the conditions for the philosophers to become scientists, and it was the people of the Church themselves who took the natural philosophy to the level of scientific research....more
I read Gummere's translation many years ago, and it left me disappointed, though my then much poorer English skills probably ought to be blamed. LaterI read Gummere's translation many years ago, and it left me disappointed, though my then much poorer English skills probably ought to be blamed. Later I read fragments of the original text, and I delighted in its rhythm and melody, but understood very little. It is only now, with Heaney's translation, that I've been able to fully enjoy both the shape and the contents of the tales told in Bewoulf. It is a beautiful translation, accessible to a modern reader but retaining the old style, melodic, often alliterated, and spotted with Hibernicisms that give the text its unique feel. ...more
I was born in a communist country, but for many years my political awareness was being shaped in a liberal democracy with a strong anti-communist reseI was born in a communist country, but for many years my political awareness was being shaped in a liberal democracy with a strong anti-communist resentment. The political narrative of my country was largely that Marx was one of the architects of one of the most criminal and murderous systems in the world history, and that his writings were a pile of rubbish. The narrative influenced me so strongly that I never thought of reading Marx, believing it to be a waste of time.
Having gained some distance (geographically as well as mentally), I became more curious. I learnt more about Marx and came to realise that his works could not be of the sort of "Mein Kampf" (I happened to have read "Mein Kampf" in high-school - imagine the shock of the school librarian when I asked her about it!) The Communist Manifesto is indeed far from Hitler's ludicrous and chaotic ranting. It is hardly criminal or murderous (but people can make anything murderous, think of the New Testament!) It is not a chaotic rant, but a carefully structured document. It is certainly a more pleasant read, as it invokes more positive emotions and less fear. Nevertheless, it is also a set of flawed arguments, a superficial vision of history, and a stark example of utopist, unrealistic and therefore dangerous thinking. I still could not help feeling sympathy for the authors of the Manifesto. After all, their aim was to remedy the misery of fellow humans. They just got (seriously) carried away with their trust in the human nature....more
Four stars only, because it is not a flawless book: arguments are at times illustrated by a biased choice of data. Despite this lacking, the Author reFour stars only, because it is not a flawless book: arguments are at times illustrated by a biased choice of data. Despite this lacking, the Author remains convincing in his analysis of certain crucial issues of modern economics:
- The deregulation of the financial sector has led to its unsustainable growth, and created a huge gap between the financial markets and the underlying economy - the gap that has caused the collapse in 2008. - Wealth doesn't trickle down when its accumulation is left unchecked - we can see it well enough today. The lack of state regulations destabilises job markets and opens them up to abuse. - Making the shareholders' needs a priority in running a company is not good for anyone in the long run. Looking for fast profits is harmful to the company, the society, and the economy as a whole. Financial growth should not be sped up, but slowed down, in order to remain sustainable. - And, last but not least, economics is not a hard science. It does not follow, apply or even examine any unchangeable natural laws. It is shaped by ourselves, our attitudes, beliefs and morality, as much as politics or history. This I've suspected for a long time, but as a dilettante in economics, I could not be sure. I was very glad to see an economist say it....more
It was a quick dip into some chapters of the book - just enough to get a general idea what the City people think about poverty, average earnings, andIt was a quick dip into some chapters of the book - just enough to get a general idea what the City people think about poverty, average earnings, and their own position in British economy. No surprises there - all interviewees were very misguided about this basic economic data. ...more