(Click on the cartoon to go to Mr. Hilburn's Web page. Or here.)
Muhammad (and a Bunch of Dubious Imams): The Koran
Turns out it's not just the Judeo-Christian bible that bores me to tears. I'm working on it, I swear.
Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged
I actually "read" an abridged, audio version this time. But no worries; I've read the entire book twice over the years. I'm just cleansing my palate after watching the movies, which were horrid. I occasionally smiled during the movies, but mostly I wanted to cry. Seriously, the lady was a screenwriter and wrote her books cinematically. How could they screw this up? (By not really "getting it" and having too low a budget anyway, I'm guessing.) Sigh. (*****)
Richard A. Muller: Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
(4/25/2013) I've read this before and, as before, I have some issues with some of his stuff here (he sometimes takes as given things which should be considered a bit more deeply). But that said, this is essential reading. (*****)
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Jerry Pournelle: Starswarm
(3/22/2013) The advantage of setting a story on an unknown planet is that one is free to be inventive with the zoology. Lots of fun! (****)
T.J. Stiles: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
(3/20/2013) Cornelius Vanderbilt built first a steam-ship empire and then a rail empire while fighting international bandits; dirty, influence-peddling, legislature-bribing competitors; and stock-speculators (actually stock-manipulators), e.g. the notorious Jay Gould. Vanderbilt was accused, in the cynical newspapers of the time, of all the same bad behavior, but almost always without evidence. By carefully referring to primary sources, Stiles largely debunks these imputations; for Vanderbilt, honesty, plain-dealing, and hard work were the soul of business and of a man. In this, Stiles has done an immense service to history.
I am surprised, though, by Stiles' frequent reference to the ‘contradictory’ ‘hardness’ of Commodore Vanderbilt toward his family while he (Vanderbilt) also expressed, privately, his clearly genuine love for them. I see no contradiction. He loved them but also expected much of them, especially of his sons, one of whom was an oily, always-indebted gambling addict. For the father to pay the son's perpetual debts would have been to expect very little, and thus to give up both respect and hope.
Four-and-a-half stars out of five. (****)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus
(3/4/2013) A story about a story that contains a story within a story. But it could be shorter by a third without losing anything; I'd start by cutting down on the monster's blather about his emotional agony. Meh. (BTW, nowhere in this story is the monster described as flat-headed or bolt-necked. Also, he has long hair. Take that, Hollywood!) (***)
Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
(2/26/2013) Douglass wrote three auto- biographies, in 1845, 1855, and 1881, this first serving essentially as a political pamphlet to describe the horrors of slavery to which he was subjected in Maryland – which, he notes, was better than the treatment suffered by many slaves, especially by women who could not work or who appeared, um, reproductively useful.
Eventually he escaped, in 1835 at the approximate age of 18 (he never knew his age to the year, much less to the date), to New York. But New York wasn't far enough ‘north’ to put him safe from the ‘nigger hunters’, so he immediately proceeded with his free black fiancee to Massachusetts, where he is welcomed. But read it for yourself.
Fred Hoyle: Black Cloud
(2/22/2013) This is the hardest of ‘hard’ science fiction, and bless Hoyle's curmudgeonly heart for it! A good story with good characterization, too. (*****)
Alden Hatch: General George Patton: Old Blood & Guts
(2/20/2012) This is really a biography for early-teen and late pre-teen boys. For an adult, it's at most an appetizer. I have a copy of another Patton biography and an autobiography (War as I Knew It), which I'll get to very soon. (****)
Fawn M. Brodie: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith
(2/17/2013) This might also have been entitled: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: In Which the Good Citizens of Missouri and Illinois Don't Acquit Themselves So Well, Either, and a Certain Colonel of the Illinois Militia Should Hang for Murder. In Mr. Smith's (slight) defense, Mrs. Brodie does note, in her epilogue, that the fabulist can, out of the psychological need that inspired his lies, come to believe his own bullshit, a point which I think was also noted by Nietzsche, sans the psychologizing. It's worth remembering. (****)
Marc Gillinov, M.D. and Steven Nissen, M.D.: Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need
A friend recently suffered some thrombotic nastiness, which reminded me of how much I learned from this book and how much I should have learned, but forgot. So I read it again.
But when the sentence begins ‘Observational studies suggest…’, my teeth grind together. It might as well say, ‘My Aunt Tilly used to say…’. Yike. (****)
R. Rosenbaum: Explaining Hitler
(1/28/2013) Much work and much controversy has been made of the effort to explain Hitler: Was he the sine qua non of the Holocaust – ‘No Hitler, no Holocaust’, as Milton Himmelfarb put it – or was it in the zeitgeist and thus other German leaders might have done the same? (Does it matter that the Nazis never got, in a free election, more than a plurality of 33% of the vote?) Did Hitler really order the Holocaust, or was it just a bureaucratic response to overcrowding in the camps? Was Hitler a grand schemer, or maybe a Hamlet character, not sure of his own wishes until the decision was forced on him by events? Did he think that the mass murder was justified, or was he conscious of the evil? Was Hitler beaten as a child? Did a billy-goat bite off his left testicle (and wouldn't that turn you into a raging lunatic)? Did he have syphilis, or maybe he was exposed to nerve gas in World War I, or was it all the result of a special type of encephalitis that left its victims both charismatic and sociopathic? (!) Is it ‘obscene’ even to try to explain Hitler? Is explanation equivalent to absolution? (No, damn it!)
As for myself, I really would like to understand how something so terribly evil as the Holocaust could have happened, if only to prevent the repetition of history. Some of the explanations that Rosenbaum considers are at least plausible, and of course racial hatred was fundamental, whatever else might have gone so wrong, but I fear, as does Mr. Rosenbaum, that the enormity of the Holocaust is so great – that so much defies rational explanation – that true understanding might forever evade our grasp. (****)
David E. Bernstein: Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform
The goal of economic liberty is laudable, but I doubt that ‘substantive due process’ (‘green pastel redness’, as John Hart Ely tartly described it) – in any form – will ever be anything more than a shabby excuse for judicial lawmaking. But I'm willing to be surprised.