Oh, fellow Goodreads friends, how fantastic an experience has this been! This book has been the most fantastic companion I co...moreBrasília, 29 October 2013
Oh, fellow Goodreads friends, how fantastic an experience has this been! This book has been the most fantastic companion I could have wished for during the last fortnight or so. The story contained therein is so moving that tears welled up in my eyes, and the only thing that prevented me from weeping like a child was the unfortunate fact that the paper used is not waterproof, and soaking them in tears would definitely lead do much vexation if I wanted to know what was written prior to my emotional display.
"The Sorrows of Young Werther" is a book about the most original emo kid stuck in a proto-friendzone (or, as Goethe would have called it, the "courtship court". All the elements of contemporary "friendzone" whining are present within this book: The most undeserving rival who eventually marries the girl our hero is infatuated with, the "but I love you like a brother" line uttered by the fair maiden, and - of course - the frustration of not being able to move on. Goethe himself, it is argued, thought this behaviour was movingly stupid, and wrote this book as a criticism against such foolery, but it was taken by emo kids all around the world as their Bible, because Goethe is such a great writer he is able to turn potential foes and detractors into fans. Somehow Kick-starting romanticism with the Sturm und Drang movement has definitely been the most unexpected result behind the publication of this tale. Ha-ha, sucks to be you, Johann!
The reason behind this success, I presume, is because Goethe's criticism is incredibly accurate: Werther could well be your friend. It certainly reminded me of some of my most enthusiastic companions, and I most certainly will present them with a tome this Christmas. Incidentally, Goethe also knew that conflict is inherent to life, and you can't both have your sauerkraut and feast on it as well. It just so happened that in this case the conflict was too overwhelming for our dear protagonist.
4/5. Needs more bosoms, explosions, and boobytraps. (less)
Max Weber, way before WWII, had already predicted some of the problems that would assail modern industrial societies throughout last century: Instead...moreMax Weber, way before WWII, had already predicted some of the problems that would assail modern industrial societies throughout last century: Instead of praising rationality as some kind of panacea, he realised it would create bureaucratic "iron cages" that would eventually stymie the pursuit of personal freedom to some extent; and charismatic leaders, far from being saviours, are just one different kind of leadership that people irrationally cling to, thus granting control over this bureaucratic machine. All this knowledge didn't stop Weber's own homeland from fostering Nazism. Rationality and science, rather than being the solution to all our woes, were unable to prevent humans from being human.
The message from John Gray's book is not altogether different from this one: The myth of progress (even through science or any foreseeable rational means) is nothing but a myth. Scientific knowledge may help us fight diseases, but it's useless when it comes to fighting our own human impulses. Contemporary societies can be affected by intolerance and slavery, among other threats to individual freedom, as ancient societies were. Progress in this sense is extremely fragile, and the belief in a better future can quite often be the one obstacle towards this goal.
The underlying message of this book is that we should come to terms with the fact reason can only go so far, and attempts to improve the human lot often lead to disastrous consequences. Although this may turn out to be a myth itself, John Gray's apparently sound empirical approach to history makes it a reliable one.
Ps.: The naked woman in the cover definitely made me get some funny looks on the street. It made the book all the more amusing.(less)
It may seem odd for an atheist to actually like this book, but here's what I believe: It offers some great insight on what it is that makes former unb...moreIt may seem odd for an atheist to actually like this book, but here's what I believe: It offers some great insight on what it is that makes former unbelievers convert to a religion. Besides, he's more interesting than your average church-going Christian for one simple reason - he's willing to go against the church, being something of a protestant orthodox.
He makes it clear that what drew him to Christianity is not a better explanation of how the world works (so there's no clash between science and religion there), but politics, and the moral laws that serve as the groundwork to develop this political system. He devotes several pages to ideas such as "do no evil", but fails to mention anything that you'd believe is crucial to religious figures if you stick to the tomes the "New Atheists" often pen. If religion poisons everything, I'd love to hear what is so venomous about the things Tolstoy writes here. If faith should come to an end, I'd like to know what about Tolstoy's faith is so pernicious for humanity. And if God is a delusion... well, then I don't have a problem with it, as Tolstoy seemed pretty damn happy (and harmless).
I've always believed that, although it's not really my cup of tea, Christianity can be a force for good - and here's some proof it can work.(less)
The reason why I gave this book five stars, rather than four, is because Gray's analysis is even more relevant nowadays in Brazil than in contemporary...moreThe reason why I gave this book five stars, rather than four, is because Gray's analysis is even more relevant nowadays in Brazil than in contemporary Europe, since we're currently stuck with beliefs not unlike those William James and Alfred Russel Wallace were interested in - even the appeals to science by spiritualists remain popular around here.
It's a very sober and well-written essay, and I don't think I can say anything here that isn't better put in the book.(less)
What are the odds of a person who claims to have written on behalf of scores of different authors fail to publish a single interesting book throughout...moreWhat are the odds of a person who claims to have written on behalf of scores of different authors fail to publish a single interesting book throughout his life? What a painful read!(less)