It's great to see a measured summary of the century-long discussion of what 'Celtic' really means, updated with the details of DNA research. There areIt's great to see a measured summary of the century-long discussion of what 'Celtic' really means, updated with the details of DNA research. There are bits and bobs missing from this discussion, I think, but there is no point in dwelling on them - they are minor issues. The book is well-written and conveniently structured; it can interest a non-professional reader, too, and that is what really counts....more
Probably the first book by Kim McCone that I've managed to read without yawning - there's only 56 pages of it, mind you. McCone is a great mind and anProbably the first book by Kim McCone that I've managed to read without yawning - there's only 56 pages of it, mind you. McCone is a great mind and an excellent researcher, so precise and logical that he seems hardly human. But this book is very short, therefore much easier to take.
His (hard to undermine as ever) argument is against the contesters of Celticism in our history books. He offers a detailed linguistic analysis of the ethnic terms (Celts, Galatians, Britons, Scots, et al.) as they were in use since the Antiquity up to recent times. However, he makes a point of the seeming lack of clear linguistic connection between the continental Celts and the peoples living on the British Isles.
It's a very important contribution to the discussion on the Celtic culture, but it discusses only one aspect of it. It is not a final answer to the Celtic question. The Celtic question is too big to answer on a few dozen of pages, even in McCone's horribly perfect concise style....more
Your standard book on Celtic art from the 1970s, so it is a bit out of date and the photographs are mainly black-and-white. It's a good basic introducYour standard book on Celtic art from the 1970s, so it is a bit out of date and the photographs are mainly black-and-white. It's a good basic introduction to the subject nevertheless, that is if you only bear in mind that the concept of "Celtic culture" is largely an artificial construct, coined by modern researchers....more
A satirical fake Twitter account of Prince Charles turned out so popular that the Author took it further in the shape of this book. It is a fairly entA satirical fake Twitter account of Prince Charles turned out so popular that the Author took it further in the shape of this book. It is a fairly entertaining read, but very uneven. The first part, in which we get to know Prince Charles and his family, is quite witty and funny, but the rest of the book is largely simple and often recycled humour playing on various stereotypes of the British, their attitudes, and their lives. The stereotypes used are very English-centred; Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, are only seldom touched upon. Quite a few jokes are spoilt by the Author's irritating habit of summing them up with words like 'awkward' or 'idiot'. It'd be better to leave such conclusions to the readers....more
It was so much alike "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" that I put it aside after 60 pages. I quickly scanned the following 50 pages orIt was so much alike "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" that I put it aside after 60 pages. I quickly scanned the following 50 pages or so, in order to see if Eastern European cases get any mention, but I found nothing of the sort. Chang is a good writer, and he makes many valid points, but he consistently avoids mentioning the data that does not fit in his picture....more
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
I have never read any books on Communism in Poland until now. Having been born at the dusk of it, I remember quite many bits, and, as it turns out, I’I have never read any books on Communism in Poland until now. Having been born at the dusk of it, I remember quite many bits, and, as it turns out, I’ve been learning lots throughout my life – from parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, press and other media. There is hardly anything new for me in Anne Applebaum’s book.
Yet I did enjoy it – to the extent that you can enjoy reading about self-imposed human misery. I enjoyed it, because it had been written with a desire to stay objective, and to give evidence not judgement. Applebaum’s research was thorough, and her book certainly can serve as an introduction to the early period of Communism in Eastern Europe. ...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