Let me say, first, that this is extraordinarily intricate and complicated. I have only the roughest knowledge of the precepts of Kabbalah, and found t...moreLet me say, first, that this is extraordinarily intricate and complicated. I have only the roughest knowledge of the precepts of Kabbalah, and found this to be quite difficult to get through. The book is structured into five parts (1. The first verses of creation, 2. The alphabet, 3. The Seven Voices and Sefirot, 4. The Ten Sefirot, and 5. Mysteries of the soul). Kaplan does a masterful job in the introductory analysis, and parts are extraordinarily compelling.
From the introduction, one of the most important Kabbalistic concepts introduced in the Bahir is Tzimtzum, or the self-constriction of God’s Light. “In its literal sense, the concept of Tzimtzum is straightforward. God first ‘withdrew’ His Light, forming a vacated space, in which all creation would take place. In order for His creative power to be in that space, He drew into it a ‘thread’ of His Light. It was through this thread that all creation took place.” He writes, “Light was actually brought into existence, as it is written (Genesis 1:3), ‘And God said, let there be light.’ Something cannot be brought into existence uless it is made. The term ‘formation’ is therefore used. In the case of darkness, however, there was no making, only separation and setting aside. It is for this reason that the term ‘created’ (Bara) is used. It has the same sense as in the expression, ‘That person became well (hi-Bria).’ (6)
Later, when discussing the alphabet, “The reason for this involves an important concept. God’s primary purpose in creation was to give. Since creation cannot accept all that God has to give, He must also restrain. The concept of restraint therefore fulfills a secondary function in creation. Silver and Chesed-Love represent giving, and are thus on a higher level than gold and Gevurah-Strength, which represent restraint.” (123)
The discussion of the “Thirty-two Paths” is a brilliant visual representation within section two. (155) These representations are essential to my understanding, and are present throughout the book.
Unfortunately, this is still a pretty dense. I would not recommend this for anyone except those that are familiar with Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah.(less)
Lear’s compendium of small jokes and assorted nonsense is delightfully funny, and anticipated the comedy of countless generations that depend on the r...moreLear’s compendium of small jokes and assorted nonsense is delightfully funny, and anticipated the comedy of countless generations that depend on the ridiculous. He sums up this philosophy in a quote to be found in the wonderfully written introduction to this volume: ‘Nonsense is the breath of my nostrils’, he wrote. It is a philosophy as much as a genre. For him it was a response to ‘this ludicrously whirligig life which one suffers from first & laughs at afterwards’. Lear himself was not blessed with an easy life, and his comedy offered him a way out. Such limerick’s as the following that I could not help but linking with the current state of the UN prove the point:
There was an Old Man of the Hague, Whose ideas were excessively vague; He built a balloon, to examine the moon, That deluded Old Man of the Hague.
However, underneath the nonsense there is a great poet. Verses such as the following from the “Growling Eclogue” offer wonderful imagery:
Last week I called aloud, O! O! O! O! The ground is wholly overspread with snow! Is that at any rate a theme for mirth Which makes a sugar-cake of all the earth?
His best, though, are his honest and heartfelt poems of disappointment. Among these, read ‘When the light dies away on a calm summer’s eve’, ‘The gloom that winter casts’, and ‘O dear! How disgusting is life!’. Their beauty can be found in such lines as the following from “Miss Maniac” – “And felt how doubly keen it is to mourn – and mourn alone!”.
This is a serious volume. It should be read for its mirth, as well as for the fantastic poet to be found hiding underneath the nonsense. (less)
The nature of money is changing. This book, written by one of the early employees of PayPal, traces his experiences through the early days of one of t...moreThe nature of money is changing. This book, written by one of the early employees of PayPal, traces his experiences through the early days of one of the disrupters in this industry. Interesting read.(less)
This novel is interesting. Mahfouz is a master, but this is not one of his masterpieces. One can, however, see in this novel the distilled technique a...moreThis novel is interesting. Mahfouz is a master, but this is not one of his masterpieces. One can, however, see in this novel the distilled technique and thought of a prolific modern author.
Technically, the novel is told by three ordinary Egyptians. Sadat’s policies of modernization have had a negative effect on all of them, leading the grandfather to lament to his grandson, “You are faced with challenges fit to create heroes, not a lost generation!” (50) The novel follows chronologically the difficulties and disappointments of the three characters. The novel thus becomes a puzzle for the reader, with each narrator’s interpretation of general life and their personal responses becoming pieces that fit together, but not perfectly.
The story itself, however, is slow. Centering on the grandson, Elwan’s, frustrated love for Randa as well as his disappointment with his career, he finally and predictably explodes in a way that earns back the respect of his beloved, but destroys his career. Ultimately, this parallels the choices made by the country as a whole.
The novel is a quick read, and certainly worth the limited time it will take to complete. (less)
Carver is better known for his short stories, but his poems also deserve consideration. Carver is a very intentional writer. Composed during his happi...moreCarver is better known for his short stories, but his poems also deserve consideration. Carver is a very intentional writer. Composed during his happier years, the poems reflect the life of a man who is aware of his demons, and who for the time being has them under control. Carver’s style is direct, and filled with a realism that intends profundity. My favorite passage is the following verse from “Hominy and Rain”: It’s a little like some tiny cave-in, in my brain. There’s a sense that I’ve lost—not everything, not everything, but far too much. A part of my life forever. Like hominy. (10) This is an apt metaphor. It is intellectual and real at the same time, and it speaks to loss in the context of an overall life. Other favorites are “The Ashtray”, which is an extended meditation on a brilliant quote of Chekov’s. Finally, I love the poem “Venice”: The gondolier handed you a rose. Took us up one canal and then another. We glided past Casanova’s palace, the palace of the Rossi family, palaces belonging to the Baglioni, the Pisani, and Sangallo. Flooded. Stinking. What’s left left to rats. Blackness. The silence total, or nearly. The man’s breath coming and going behind my ear. The drip of the oar. We gliding silently on, and on. Who would blame me if I fall to thinking about death? A shutter opened above our heads. A little light showed through before the shutter was closed once more. There is that, and the rose in your hand. And history. (102) This poem is stunning in its message and imagery. The remainder of the collection is very personal. While not a masterpiece, it is very good and worthy of everyone’s attention. (less)
Pirandello is an absolute master. His "Six Characters in Search of an Author" is one of my favorite dramas of all time. "Enrico IV" falls in the same...morePirandello is an absolute master. His "Six Characters in Search of an Author" is one of my favorite dramas of all time. "Enrico IV" falls in the same line - reality and illusion are not necessarily distinguishable from each other, and are subject to the human characters choosing to participate. He takes the act of drama itself as the catalyst for this exploration, to stunning effects. The story never seems strained, and the language flies off the page. I have too many favorite lines to list them here - fantastic.(less)
What I enjoy most about Tufte’s books is his wide use of graphical material to present his subject. Take away the text, and the reader is left with an...moreWhat I enjoy most about Tufte’s books is his wide use of graphical material to present his subject. Take away the text, and the reader is left with an interesting art book that holds its own on any coffee table. However, on closer inspection, this book, like all of Tufte’s publications, is a statement on the effective presentation on data, and one of the more helpful business books around.
This book is interesting because the principles are distilled further. Show trends in the data in beautiful presentations, such as sparklines. Frankly, I had seen sparklines before this, but never as effectively used and I left scratching my head why that was the case. It is no surprise that Tufte has little positive to say about powerpoint and Microsoft’s presentation capabilities in general. In this book, like all of his works, he proves just how much more powerful honest and intelligent presentation of data can be.
The principles distilled are: • “First do no harm (to the content).” • “This is a content-driven business. The quality, the relevance and the integrity of the content is all.” • “Design cannot rescue failed content.” • “The best way to improve the quality of a presentation is to improve the content.” • “We must be incessantly on guard against those – the webmasters, the PowerPoint rangers, etc. – who would distort the integrity of content.”
Tufte’s standard is high. It should be, however, what we approach versus what nearly all of us deliver on a regular basis. (less)
Mallarme’s poetry, I believe, unfortunately does not translate its true excellence into English. Focused on aesthetics, Mallarme included in his poeti...moreMallarme’s poetry, I believe, unfortunately does not translate its true excellence into English. Focused on aesthetics, Mallarme included in his poetic formulations wonderful symbolism, which does translate, as well as aesthetic form that focused on spacing, and the image of the poem as a whole. Unfortunately, it is difficult to translate both. This volume does make an admirable attempt, however, and it is worth the investment in time to read the text. A great example, I think, of Mallarme’s work can be found in the last verse from “The Azure” is incredibly descriptive, overwhelming, haunting, and hyperbolic: It travels ancient through the fog, and penetrates Like an unerring blade your native agony; Where flee in my revolt so useless and depraved? For I am haunted! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky!
Ranging widely over much subject matter, I found the prose contained in this volume just as interesting as the poetry. A quote from “Crisis In Poetry” is a fantastic representation of Mallarme’s thinking. “Each soul is a melody which must be picked up again, and the flute or the viola of everyone exists for that.” (75) Overall, Mallarme was an influential artist for his aesthetic quality and symbolic representations, and as such, deserves to be studied. (less)
This classic of Russian Christian spirituality is a true masterpiece. At its core, the book centers around a common sinner who, in full knowledge of h...moreThis classic of Russian Christian spirituality is a true masterpiece. At its core, the book centers around a common sinner who, in full knowledge of his need for redemption, sets out wandering in the search for wisdom. The book opens with the following challenge: “I checked my Bible and saw with my own eyes exactly what I had heard, that it is necessary to pray continuously (1 Thess. 5:17); to pray in the Spirit on every possible occasion (Eph. 6:18); in every place to lift your hands reverently in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). I thought and thought about these words, but no understanding came to me.” (3) He finds his answer, repeatedly from the words of those he encounters, in a classic book of wisdom literature taught by the Russian Orthodox church: “An artificial glass, a million times smaller and dimmer than the sun, is needed to look at the great king of lights to be enraptured by its fiery rays. In a similar way the Holy Bible is a shining light and the Philokalia is the necessary glass.” (9) The wanderer encounters common people who have found wisdom, as well as church fathers and mystics who all teach him to use the Jesus Prayer constantly. This constant devotion leads to the sublimated confession of the wanderer, “The Confession of an Interior Man.” The four major confessions, elucidated eloquently within the Confession, are: 1. I do not love God. 2. I do not love my neighbor. 3. I do not have faith in spiritual realities. 4. I am full of pride and self-love. The wander comes to understand and agree with St. Macarius the Great, “To pray often is in our will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace.” (139) In his journey, he encounters the charm of the Russian countryside. (less)
This book provides an interesting perspective on Eisenhower. Divine argues that Ike was a better president than his reputation. In the preface he admi...moreThis book provides an interesting perspective on Eisenhower. Divine argues that Ike was a better president than his reputation. In the preface he admits that Eisenhower accomplished little in his domestic policy…his expertise and interests lay primarily in the incredibly dangerous world caught between the Soviets and the west. He portrays Eisenhower as a shrewd politician who guarded his thoughts so as to provide flexibility on his position. The best and most convincing statement of this skill in his dealing with the Chinese with modest threats of nuclear war, but in such a way that “perhaps the best testimony to the shrewdness of the President’s policy is the impossibility of telling even now whether or not he was bluffing” (31). He managed the crisis developing in Indochina without committing the United States to war…a policy his successors unfortunately did not follow. His warnings are best summarized by Admiral A.C. Davis, who warned that partial war was not an option, as “one cannot go over Niagara Falls in a barrel only slightly.” (50) He also effectively used others to control his policy directives in a very hands on way. As an overview that presents an argument, this is an interesting book. Divine best summarizes Eisenhower’s success with the statement that “there is great irony in the fact that Eisenhower, the man hailed as the savior of Western Europe in World War II, would become the president who extended American power and influence globally at the expense of England and France.” (96). Of his failures, he fairly treats Eisenhower by stating that, “if at times he confused the danger from Arab nationalism with that from Soviet communism, at least he had a clear sense of the strategic value of Persian Gulf oil and acted boldly to protect that vital national interest.” (104) Unfortunately, the narrative is a bit confused in that it is neither a comprehensive treatment, or a scholarly piece of revisionist history…it is somewhat caught in the middle. Still, for those who have a cursory knowledge of Eisenhower and are interested in his personal approach to the presidency and the dangers of the newly atomic world, this is an interesting study.(less)