An interpretation of the works of my favorite author, Daniel Quinn. It integrates all of his books, as well as those of many others who think along si...moreAn interpretation of the works of my favorite author, Daniel Quinn. It integrates all of his books, as well as those of many others who think along similar lines. It was interesting to read this overview, and the other perspectives, but it was not at all inspiring or insightful.(less)
This is a beautiful story, and the writing at the beginning was very detailed and evocative. Later, this same detail becomes a chore to read, the stor...moreThis is a beautiful story, and the writing at the beginning was very detailed and evocative. Later, this same detail becomes a chore to read, the story turning into an irrelevant narrative. The main character seems whiny and petty. This is one of those rare books whose movie is much better than it is. Even the movie drags on toward the end, but not nearly as much as the book. But the movie has stunning visuals, and some added dialogue, that makes it far more compelling.(less)
This is a remarkable and heartfelt story about a punk rocker turned Buddhist teacher. Talk about starting low. This guy was suicidal at 6 years old, a...moreThis is a remarkable and heartfelt story about a punk rocker turned Buddhist teacher. Talk about starting low. This guy was suicidal at 6 years old, and was smoking pot at 8. He's always felt a strong sense of discontent with society, especially his father's hippie generation. He found refuge and community in punk rock. But as the drugs took over, he lost his way, and found himself living for his next fix, stealing whatever he had to in order to get it, landing in juvenile hall several times. Even after he joined a twelve step program and sobered up, he relapsed several times, and also went through a graffiti phase. It wasn't until he discovered Buddhism that his life truly changed.
It's not technically accurate to say he "discovered" Buddhism, since his father is the prominent Buddhist author, Stephen Levine. But he did discover it in a sense, when he was really ready to hear the message of Buddhism. He found this to be the answer to the discontent he felt all his life, served as a sort of "inner revolution" much like punk rock served as his outer revolution. The way he put it is: "going against the internal stream of ignorance is way more rebellious than trying to start some sort of cultural revolution." In this way, he finds that his Buddhist practice and love for the music, philosophy, and community of punk rock have more in common than he thought. He gets to know Buddhist monks who used to be punkers, and finds fellow punkers who are interested in spirituality. I absolutely love that he continues to honor his roots and his original passions and motivations, something that is rare for people who "get religion."
As if this transformation wasn't miraculous enough, he ended up studying with Ram Dass and Jack Kornfield, and getting a master's degree in counseling psychology. He now teaches workshops and classes on meditation and Buddhism, especially in prisons and juvenile halls. And he still gets tattoos and moshes at punk concerts.(less)
Kind of a spiritual romance travel memoir. I knew it was cheesy and my expectations were low, but I must say, it won me over. It's so well-written and...moreKind of a spiritual romance travel memoir. I knew it was cheesy and my expectations were low, but I must say, it won me over. It's so well-written and fun. It's really a three-part story, from a year she spent in Italy, India, and Indonesia.
The author is amusingly superstitious. It revolves around a palm reading she had and an experience with God talking to her in her own writing. She tends to be melodramatic and overly romantic. She makes Rome sound like a red light district, with sex on everyone's minds, and everywhere you turn you see people making out. I've been to Rome. It's just another old city, overcrowded, with too much traffic and a McDonald's on the corner. Everywhere you turn, you see cars and tourists, not people making out. So this exaggeration made me take the rest of the book with a grain of salt. Particularly the love affair at the end, which was straight out of Hollywood.
But the second part was quite inspiring. She spent four months in an ashram in India, and she really struggled with it. I'm sure some of her struggles were exaggerated like the rest of the book, but still, I related to the inner battles you face when you look at your own mind clearly: the obsessions, fears, doubts, shames, and other emotions that seem too overpowering to handle. I also related to the serenity one experiences when those emotions are worked with, patiently and persistently. I don't relate to the little trip to Heaven she says she took at the end, but that's certainly more of her exaggerations.
This book has Hollywood chick flick written all over it, and I can totally picture Julia Roberts in this role, so I'm excited to see the movie.(less)
Dawkins does a decent job at making a case against religion. I've always admired his occasionally piercing arguments, but usually disappointed with hi...moreDawkins does a decent job at making a case against religion. I've always admired his occasionally piercing arguments, but usually disappointed with his fluffy and evasive arguments. I'm always annoyed by his childish enthusiasm for science and disdain for religion. Still, he makes a lot of very interesting arguments in this book, some of which persuaded me, and I'm already an atheist. But most of it felt a bit like a sciency rant. He belabors unpersuasive and barely relevant points, especially when he starts talking science. I guess that's what we should expect from a scientist writing about religion.
I've been able to categorize the atheist authors by the primary emotions they seem driven by. Sam Harris is fear. Christopher Hitchens is anger, but in a sneaky way. His descriptions of religion is so articulate and horrifying that his own reaction to it seems mild and moderate in relation to it. Richard Dawkins is alternately sad and indignant. One minute he's holding his nose and the next minute he's crying about the tragedy of it all. Hitchens, I believe, made the most damning case, but he didn't succeed at infecting me with anger. Harris consistently made articulate, persuasive arguments, but he didn't succeed at evoking fear in me. Dawkins, however, was successful at making me sad at the tragedy of it all.
The biggest gripe I have with all of these books is their intolerance. Too often, their arguments border on censorship and eliminating religious freedoms. They make some interesting points about the ways religion hurts others, but they're too quick to argue "religious people should not be allowed to ______."
The biggest oversight of this book is that he seems to genuinely not understand religion or the draw it has for people. Toward the end of the book, he speculates about some reasons people are religious. It revolves mostly around the theory that it's an imaginary friend for adults, which is rather demeaning. It's hard for him to empathize with any of his religious audience, and therefore, I imagine, probably alienates most of them. There are people who said this book is what made them an atheist, which I can only attribute to the occasionally powerful arguments within it. I expect many Christians who read this book would be horrified by what they learn about their religion and Bible. Other than that, I don't see this book converting anyone, simply because he so often misses the point.
Take, for example, one of the major themes of his book, and within his debates. It usually goes like this:
Dawkins: "Evolution explains that!" Religious person: "Oh yeah? Then how does evolution explain _____?" Dawkins: "It doesn't, but it raises our consciousness!" Religious person: "Well, I do have an explanation. It's right here in this Bible."
He explains what he means by this, but it's still totally unpersuasive. It evades the question, and implies his interlocutor is as loyal to science as he is. It totally overlooks the religious mind and its discomfort with unanswered questions. The religious mind isn't looking to have its consciousness raised. It's interested in answers that make sense to it. To the religious mind, truth isn't discovered, it's revealed. Atheists need to stop trying to convince people there is no god, because religious people already know there is a god. It was revealed to them, and unless you walk on water or turn water into wine, your (lack of) revelation won't impress them. Atheists need to go deeper, to this idea of revelation itself.(less)
This is a pretty well done photographic journal of average families around the world, along with their material possessions. It's mostly a picture boo...moreThis is a pretty well done photographic journal of average families around the world, along with their material possessions. It's mostly a picture book, with large, beautiful photographs of one family per country. The main photo is of the family with nearly all its possessions, taken outside. Then there are several pictures of the family as they go through their day, cooking, working, shopping, even bathing. There are some statistics to accompany each country, and each family, to give a sense for how they compare with others.
Obviously, the creators of this project thought of it as a peace mission, that the best way to foster peace is to foster understanding of each other. I knew what to expect going in, and yet I did find myself surprised to see some of these photos. The discrepancy in material wealth is pretty drastic. I expected the richest to be the USA, but it was actually Kuwait. Something else that was interesting was that their facial expressions tended to match the political atmosphere more than the economic situations. It was also interesting to see just how much influence religion has on people's lives.
It was neat to take a photographic tour of the world, visiting with average families, and vicariously getting a taste for their lives.(less)
This is more a pamphlet than a book. It's a brief history and explanation of the Uhuru movement in St. Petersburg. It started in the 60's as a violent...moreThis is more a pamphlet than a book. It's a brief history and explanation of the Uhuru movement in St. Petersburg. It started in the 60's as a violent black power movement, like the Black Panthers, but it has evolved into a nonviolent, articulate, and somewhat self-sufficient community, and has spread to different cities.
They realized that violence doesn't work, and neither does begging whites for scraps of power, and focused instead on empowering themselves economically. They started several businesses and provide funding for other business ventures, and the proceeds are distributed to its members in a socialistic way, rather than hierarchically. I admire their approach to socialism. Their growth is grassroots and operate within the system, rather than trying to overthrow the government in Marxist revolution, or trying to create a secluded bubble like the Libertarians.(less)
This is a twisted story by a twisted author that became a major twisted motion picture. I find it fascinating, even when it's sickening. Palaniuk has...moreThis is a twisted story by a twisted author that became a major twisted motion picture. I find it fascinating, even when it's sickening. Palaniuk has a way of capturing the raw disgust with the whole machine of our society, through the eyes of psychosis. It's a sentiment that I'm sympathetic to, even if I find the method detestable. This is the kind of anarchism that gives anarchism a bad name. Sometimes it feels like it's all just waiting for enough disillusioned people to band together to make civilization collapse. This book almost makes it look easy.
The writing style is unique, but annoying. He has a tendency to hammer out a series of short paragraphs that seems to have no value but shock value. But this book is supposed to be twisted, so it's effective. He does have some great phrases. My favorite is: "I want to have your abortion."
The movie for this book was pretty brilliant. Unlike most renditions of books, it stayed very close to the original book, and really brought to life things that fell a little flat in the book. There are a few things different in the movie, but I think they were improvements.(less)
I finally finished this book about the history of human civilization. I think I understand why it got a Pulitzer Prize. It's absolutely packed with in...moreI finally finished this book about the history of human civilization. I think I understand why it got a Pulitzer Prize. It's absolutely packed with information. It's overwhelming, and though interesting, it's definitely not exciting. It reads about as smoothly as a textbook.
A random example: "The Cryillic alphabet itself (the one still used today in Russia) is descended from an adaptation of Greek and Hebrew letters devised by Saint Cyril, a Greek missionary to the Slavs in the ninth century A.D. The first preserved texts for any Germanic language (the language family that includes English) are in the Gothic alphabet created by Bishop Ulfilas, a missionary living with the Visigoths in what is now Bulgaria in the fourth century A.D."
See? Interesting, but... yawwwwwn. Now try 400 pages of that, spanning the entire history and prehistory of human civilization, and covering many subjects, including linguistics, biology, history, geography, archeology, and anthropology.
The author describes the subject of this book best: "Why the rise of complex human societies unfolded differently on different continents over the last 13,000 years. . . My main conclusion was that societies developed differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology."
This is an interesting conclusion, if you think about it. It could very well mean that if you take completely different people, and put them in the same conditions: food supply, environmental conditions, geographic separations, etc, and they will end up with roughly the same outcome. They will conquer or be conquered, thrive or be wiped out, based purely on external factors. Enslavement, destruction, and wars aren't cultural flaws, but human flaws. If conquered nations had favorable conditions, they would have been the oppressors instead. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
This is depressing by itself, but there's more. While the author clearly makes efforts to not appear culturally biased, racist, or to pick sides in the historical conquests, it's pretty clear where he stands, especially by the 2003 Afterword at the end. He makes a case for free market capitalism with little government intervention, and then talks about how to use these historical lessons of what made historical victors "successful" to make corporations more profitable. I imagine a bloody history of people destroying and enslaving one another, and when most of the indigenous peoples are gone, the wealthy victors stand around smoking cigars, trying to figure out what they "did right" so they can replicate it in the future to crush their economic competitors and exploit their workforce more efficiently.
Okay, maybe I just gave away some of my own bias. I'm actually fairly pro-capitalism, and agree with most of what he says about the free market. I just think there's a whole other side to this. Like, A People's History of the United States, which is very biased, but for a different side. I also think Ishmael makes some important points, though not nearly as rigorous as this.(less)
American consumer culture has certainly gotten out of hand. It had been accelerating heavily since the 80's, as consumer debt skyrocketed, television...moreAmerican consumer culture has certainly gotten out of hand. It had been accelerating heavily since the 80's, as consumer debt skyrocketed, television dictated public awareness, and corporate lobbying dictated public policy. Our culture was no longer something we participated in, but something we consumed. And just as there was a lash back in the late 60's against economic and political excesses, Kalle Lasn stood up in the late 90's and declared the next revolution.
Just as corporate media co-opted our culture, Lasn's goal was to co-opt the media, reverse the memes and fight back against the unquestioned marketing messages that poured into our brains. His theory was that it doesn't take much to reverse a meme--just a few well-placed messages, parodies of existing marketing ploys, and various demonstrations would be enough to build up the consumers' defenses against the incessant marketing. He created Adbusters to drive this revolution, and this book is his manifesto.
The messages of his organization and others like it got through to some people. They started questioning our consumer culture, and many even shifted their lifestyles, including me. But the revolution never came. Consumer culture kept chugging away, consumer debt continued to climb, and then the economy crashed. Will people learn this time? If so, I think a new strategy will be needed. Something more mature, more scientific, more organized, less outrageous.
There's so much I like about this book. The global economic pyramid scheme. The left has become part of the problem. Meme wars. Channeling rage to effect change. The abomination of democracy that is corporate personhood. Ecological economics. But his presentation of it is cursory and prone to hyperbole. It's long on emotion and short on details. It's about as substantive as a Michael Moore film. And I never much cared for anarchic culture jamming solutions, which always seemed more cathartic and amusing than revolutionary.(less)
This is a travel memoir about hiking through the Borneo rain forest. Camping overnight in a state park is my idea of roughing it. This book makes that...moreThis is a travel memoir about hiking through the Borneo rain forest. Camping overnight in a state park is my idea of roughing it. This book makes that look like a five-star luxury hotel by comparison. The rain forest is teeming with life. He said he felt like he was inside an organism that could easily consume him. There were a few times his life was at risk.
He couldn't have done it without the help of native guides, and most of this book is stories about his interactions with various natives he encountered. They were real characters. Most of them were very silly and fun-loving, and some were a bit nutty. Probably the most poignant scene was when he was captured and accused of being a demon. He kept his cool, and eventually figured out how to escape, by playing along with their superstition. I was impressed, and sometimes amazed, by his integrity, his preparedness, and his ingenuity.
It's easy to think of the natives as a simple people, but in that environment, it was he that was simple. Sometimes he felt like he was going native himself as he adapted to living with these people in this environment. The title of this book refers to himself and how he felt when he first entered the forest. By the end, he was no longer a stranger to the forest, and even impressed some of the natives with some of the parts of Borneo he'd tackled.
This is not normally my kind of book. It felt like a chore to get through it, or else I'd give it a higher rating. But if you like travel memoirs like this, it would probably be a page-turner for you.(less)
An interesting, well-written book on American 20th century history on foreign policy. I've never thought of military confidence in terms of economic b...moreAn interesting, well-written book on American 20th century history on foreign policy. I've never thought of military confidence in terms of economic boom-and-bust cycles, as this book does. It focuses on three wars: World War I and Woodrow Wilson's "scientific peace," Vietnam and the "hubris of toughness," and Iraq and the "hubris of dominance." About every 40 years, emboldened by a stint of military and economic glory, America has tended to set its sights higher and higher, eventually believing that it's our national destiny to transform the world in our image. Then, much like Icarus in the Greek myth, we fly too high and get burned.
The author was clearly trying to be objective, exposing both the virtues and flaws of each president, and I like how he showed their human side, but I have some issues with the biases of this book. It's not so much in what is said, but what is left out. For example, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are scarcely mentioned, let alone discussed; in repeatedly citing popular opinion, never is it mentioned the forces that shape those opinions: the media; not once was the influence of big money in politics mentioned. It's pretty obvious the author is a fan of Reagan and the neoconservatives. American hegemony almost seems taken for granted at times, with the only issue being that of a good idea taken too far. Of course, the biggest bias is the focus of the book itself, emphasizing war as the most meaningful story of history, and using simplistic game metaphors of "winning a war" versus "losing a war."
Nonetheless, this book offers an invaluable historical perspective on the botched war in Iraq that has shaped our own time. I've always wondered why America suddenly became mortally afraid of terrorists. Terrorism has always been a problem. It seemed more extreme than just 9/11 showing that the threat was worse than we imagined. A rational reaction would have been to step up national security a bit, and institute a few changes to prevent such attacks in the future. The fear that suddenly gripped the nation seemed outrageous. This book explains this, summed up beautifully in this quote: "Fears don't exist in isolation. They tend to rise and fall depending on what people think they can do about them."(less)
A nice little book summarizing the philosophy, history, and practice of Aikido. I especially like the discussion of science to help Westerners underst...moreA nice little book summarizing the philosophy, history, and practice of Aikido. I especially like the discussion of science to help Westerners understand "ki," and Aikido's inclusive attitude. This book treats Aikido like the answer to all the problems in the world, but I'm discovering that's a common attitude among practitioners.(less)
I'd read a few books by Noam Chomsky, increasingly one of my favorite writers and thinkers over the years. Here is one of the brightest minds of our t...moreI'd read a few books by Noam Chomsky, increasingly one of my favorite writers and thinkers over the years. Here is one of the brightest minds of our time--in addition to his endless volumes of persuasive and influential political commentary, he's also a legendary linguist--and yet, I still didn't know what he actually believed. One reason for this mystery, I think, is that he's short on opinions and long on facts, which I admire.
I read this book, a collection of his writings and talks about anarchism, because I wanted to hear his opinions, his visions for what kind of government he wants, since I know he's not a big fan of ours. This book delivered, but it did so in true Chomsky style--short on opinions and long on facts--and that made it frustrating. He seems to randomly inject long monologues on world history. Sometimes I had trouble seeing why these monologues supported his opinions.
The book improved as it went along. The mystery was solved in Goals and Visions. By then he'd said in no uncertain terms that the ideal society is anarchistic, specifically anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism, that illegitimate power structures should be dismantled. However, his short term goal is to actually strengthen government in ways that "impede the dedicated efforts to roll back the progress that has been achieved in extending democracy and human rights." These dedicated efforts are corporations, what he calls "private tyrannies." He acknowledges that his visions and goals contradict each other.
Although I do understand better what Chomsky stands for, I feel more lost than ever about anarchism. It's not simply a chaotic lack of government, but a distrust of authority and power is general. What would anarchy look like? How would it work? How would we get there? These questions still perplex me, so I've added some books to my list that I hope will help me answer them.(less)
The world of progressive politics changed in 2000, when Nader took the left by storm, educating many people of the complicit injustices of both major...moreThe world of progressive politics changed in 2000, when Nader took the left by storm, educating many people of the complicit injustices of both major parties. I was one of those people, a Libertarian at the time, and I found Nader extremely persuasive. He either argued for my Libertarian views, or else he persuaded me, but when all was said and done, I changed my voter registration to Green.
By 2004, it started becoming clear that Nader wasn't a typical Green. In fact, he wasn't a Green at all. He only played one for that election to help build it as an independent third party. In 2004, the Greens allowed themselves to be co-opted by the Democratic Party for fear of another term of Bush. This seemed to me like a suicidal move. What's the point of campaigning if your strategy is to avoid being too successful? Nevermind that Nader did not in fact spoil the election for Gore in 2000. In this winner-take-all system, "election spoiling" is the only possible way a third party could succeed. Exactly how bad does the Republican need to be before the Greens go running back to the Democrats? If they're unwilling to spoil elections for another party, why not just pack up and move in with that party? In fact, that's exactly what many Greens did in 2004.
This book helped me make sense of this whole charade. It's a collection of articles by various Greens, making up the gist of the debate between running a "safe states" strategy versus being a truly independent party. It's well-balanced, and presents all arguments, although the editor was arguing for independence. Peter Camejo did a beautiful job at articulating the independence argument in the Avacado Declaration. In other articles, it was argued that the primary election for David Cobb and the "safe states" strategy was unfair and biased. I didn't before realize just how many internal problems the Green Party has.
My verdict is that the Green Party is an immature, scattered, disorganized, harmless little party consisting mostly of socialists and disgruntled Democrats. Aside from Nader, they don't seem to take themselves very seriously. The Democrats in the Greens will ensure that they never really upset their chosen party, which basically renders them irrelevant. When they're not busy bickering with each other, or trying to avoid speaking up too loudly for fear of the Democrats, they make some good arguments. But they're not Nader, and I'm neither a Democrat nor a socialist, so I probably won't be voting Green anymore.(less)
This is one of the pivotal vegetarian advocacy books. Now I understand why. Reading this book made me a vegetarian all over again. My understanding of...moreThis is one of the pivotal vegetarian advocacy books. Now I understand why. Reading this book made me a vegetarian all over again. My understanding of the issues that led to my decision to become vegetarian is only a fraction of what this book covers. I was truly astonished by what this book revealed. I really understood how so much of the meat industry depends on ignorance and deception.
It starts out by going straight for the heart. It talks about what animals are like--what they're really like, not the popular misconceptions. It really shows just how sentient these creatures are, how they can obviously feel compassion and pain. Then it shows just how awfully these sweet creatures are treated as they're raised for slaughter. It's horrific. Truly, terribly horrific. No living creature should be treated like that.
The next section is devoted to the endless list of health problems that have been tied to excessive meat consumption. He does fall into the fallacy that correlation implies causation, but much of the data presented here was nonetheless persuasive. My favorite part here was the dispelling of the myth that people can't get their protein needs without meat or animal-based foods.
The last section talked about some of the pesticides and poisons used in the raising of animals for slaughter, and the effects these have had on the ecosystem, water, and human breastmilk. But the very last chapter was a disappointment. In its discussion of the environment, it never mentioned global warming and the power of vegetarianism to limit greenhouse gases. It made claims that world hunger could be solved with the efficiency of vegetarian diets, ignoring, as such claims often do, the positive feedback loop of population growth caused as surviving children produce offspring they wouldn't have otherwise produced had they died of starvation. World hunger is insoluable without population control. The last chapter also makes wild claims that our economic woes can be solved with vegetarianism, not to mention world peace.
Nevertheless, this book is a win, overall. I can't imagine anyone remaining a heavy meat eater after reading this book, and I challenge every meat eater to read it, to see all the ways they've been ignorant about what they put in their bodies, and this enormous industry they employ in order for them to do so.(less)
This author makes a strong case for skepticism. The strongest case he makes, I believe, isn't so much in the dispelling of popular beliefs that have l...moreThis author makes a strong case for skepticism. The strongest case he makes, I believe, isn't so much in the dispelling of popular beliefs that have little evidence, but in his attitude toward them. Skeptics have a bad reputation (sadly, often earned) for being naysaying, closed-minded curmudgeons with no imagination.
This author is a refreshing example of true skepticism, which he summarizes in a quote by Baruch Spinoza: "I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." True skepticism is about curiosity, questioning, seeking evidence for claims that are made, rather than accepting them on faith or hope alone. The author even insists in several places that there's also a place for faith and hope, but they're insufficient for scientific reasoning.
This book discusses several fascinating, popular beliefs and cults, dispelling claims that lack evidence, or that have contrary evidence. It includes discussions of holocaust deniers, alien abduction, paranormal phenomenon, creationism, mind reading, racism, the misuse of science to prove religious beliefs, even the Ayn Rand cult of personality.(less)